The Car and Driving Guide to Buying a Plug-in Hybrid

Plug & Play

Thinking of making your next car an electrified one? Well there’s an awful lot of choice available to you these days – mild hybrid, full-Hybrid, Plug-in PHEV hybrid, full-EV and Hydrogen fuel cell. Here, we’re going to guide you through some of the best buys if you’re looking for a Plug-in Hybrid.

If you want to go any real distance on electrified power yet retain the peace of mind that comes with the extended driving range you can currently only get from a conventional combustion petrol or diesel engine, then a PHEV Plug-in hybrid is certainly what you’ll need. Cars of this sort use a larger battery than Prius-like self-charging HEV hybrid models and that will typically give you an all-electric driving range of around 30 miles – provided you keep the car fully charged. When the range is used up, the engine will seamlessly switch into combustion mode.

Because the current WLTP industry fuel and CO2 measuring system takes a PHEV model’s all-electric driving range into account, incredible-sounding three-figure combined cycle fuel economy figures and sub-50g/km CO2 readings are routinely quoted for PHEV models. You probably won’t achieve these in typical day-to-day motoring, but the important thing is that the government believes them, which is why Benefit-in-Kind taxation rates on PHEV models are far lower than the rates applied for other kinds of combustion-engined vehicle.

Affordable – Renault Captur E-TECH

Renault has been a market leader in delivering Plug-in hybrid technology in smaller cars - models like this one, Renault’s Captur E-TECH Plug-in Hybrid 160 which, priced from around £30,000, is one of the most affordable PHEVs on the market. This compact crossover offers a 31 mile electric driving range and super-low Benefit-in-Kind taxation exposure, both things common in this class and highly valued by potential customers. Here though, it’s all presented with a combination of family friendly flexibility - the sliding rear bench for instance - and a bit of Gallic pizzaz courtesy of the available opportunities for bodywork and cabin customisation. Which all creates a car that’s worth a second look.

We’ve given you the driving range figure. The WLTP figure for combined cycle fuel economy figure for this car is rated at up to 188.3mpg, while the WLTP CO2 reading is up to 34g/km. You’ll need some class perspective on that. The MINI Countryman PHEV manages up to 156.9mpg, up to 39g/km and a driving range of up to 31.7miles. And the two main Kia alternatives, the Niro PHEV and the XCeed PHEV, both manage up to 201.8mpg, up to 31g/km and a driving range of up to 36 miles. All these models, including this Renault, have CO2 figures that are green enough to qualify for a super-low 10% Benefit-in-Kind taxation rating and free first year road tax. Charging time via a Type 2 (mode 3) cable is 3 hours - or 4 hours 15 mins from a domestic socket.

Sporty Hatch – Volkswagen Golf GTE

Volkswagen's second generation Golf GTE continues to offer a more dynamic, if rather pricey, take on plug-in hybrid technology, combining sporty styling and pokey petrol power along with real world battery range and frugality. With the MK2 version of this PHEV model, the bigger 13kWh battery has 50% more energy capacity than before, allowing for an electric-only range of up to 40 miles. The idea here is to deliver GTI responsiveness along with ID.3-style EV sustainability.

The Golf GTE always starts in its all-electric ‘E-MODE’. That happens with Prius-like self-charging hybrids too, but with those cars, the engine then chips in almost immediately you get underway. This PHEV Golf in contrast has a pleasing tendency to want to stay battery powered for as long as it possibly can. The drive only switches to the car’s more customary ‘Hybrid’ setting (which sees the engine and battery working in tandem) if the energy capacity of the battery drops below a certain level, or if the speed rises above 80mph. You can switch between ‘E-MODE’ and ‘Hybrid’ manually using the auto gear selector.

Pricing is quite high, starting at around £36,000, but if that’s an issue, you can save a few thousand on that and go for the less sporty-looking (and also less powerful) Golf eHybrid model with much the same technology. For the GTE, Volkswagen claims an unlikely-sounding best possible 235.4mpg combined cycle fuel figure for this car, along with a squeaky-clean CO2 return of up to 26g/km. Charging the 13kWh battery takes 3 hrs 40mins using the 3.6kW wallbox you’ll want to install in your garage. If you’re limited to a normal 3-pin domestic mains socket, it’ll be 5hrs.

SUV - Citroen C5 Aircross SUV Hybrid

Citroen’s C5 Aircross SUV Hybrid is an electrified Gallic mid-sized five-seat SUV that comes with a powerful and adaptable powertrain. This sees a PureTech 180 Stop & Start petrol engine and an 80kW electric motor combining with a specially designed e-EAT8 automatic gearbox, to offer the equivalent of up to 225hp.

At the wheel, you get three driving modes, with the one you'll be using most of the time being the 'Hybrid' setting that chooses the best mix of electric and petrol propulsion to suit your driving style whilst optimising efficiency. The alternative settings are either 'Sport' (where the car combines the power of the electric and petrol motors to offer livelier performance). And 'Electric' (where the car uses only the battery-powered electric motor, resulting in an ultra-quiet and smooth drive with zero exhaust emissions, offering a WLTP range of up to 34 miles. There’s also a mode allowing you to reserve charge for later in your journey.

Otherwise, things are very much as they would be in any other C5 Aircross. This car's key differentiating point is the way it glides over bumps. That ability comes courtesy of its Progressive Hydraulic Cushion suspension system. This two-stage set-up features a couple of hydraulic stops on each side of the car, one for compression, the other for rebound. For major uneven ground impacts, the hydraulic stops work with the springs and shock absorbers to avoid jerky movements and unpleasant bouncing. Thicker softer seat padding also embellishes the impression of comfort. And double-laminated front windows and engine bay soundproofing play their part in reducing cabin noise.

The combined petrol engine and electric motor produces CO2 of just 32 to 33g/km and fuel efficiency of up to 168mpg on a combined cycle, (those are WLTP certified figures of course). You'll need to fit a home charging 7kW wallbox to make the most of this car. Citroen partners with Pod Point to provide this and customers will be eligible for a £500 government OLEV grant towards installation. Once this is in place, you'll be able to recharge the car in under two hours. And company drivers will be tempted by the fact that this PHEV sits in the 10% Benefit-in-Kind taxation bracket.

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