Best hybrid cars to buy in 2019

20 May, 2019 1:30pm Steve Walker

Hybrid power is the way forward if the car industry is to be believed, and these are the top 10 best hybrid cars to buy now...

Electric cars are becoming more and more popular, and as a result, the hybrid sector is also growing. Whether it's a traditional plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) or a standalone hybrid model that cleverly regenerates its own lost energy, there are more hybrid cars on sale today than ever before. With each passing year, manufacturers are scrambling to add more hybrid choices to their vehicle line-ups in an effort to both jumps on the hybrid bandwagon and to find replacements for outgoing petrol and diesel cars. 

Brands from Kia and Toyota all the way through to BMW and Porsche have got at least one hybrid in their model range. Customers are now being spoilt for choice as there is seemingly a hybrid car available in each and every area of the car market, from superminis to SUVs and even performance cars. But which ones are best?, jumbo-bg has compiled the 10 best hybrid cars on sale in the UK today.

• EV and plug-in car tech explained

Below you'll find all the information you need on the different types of hybrid technology and the advantages of choosing a hybrid car, to help you make an informed buying decision. Most importantly though, is our verdict on the best hybrid cars on sale. Click the links below to jump to a particular car to find out more about the hybrids in the top 10 and why we rate them. 

Top 10 best hybrids to buy 2019

  1. 1. BMW i3 Range Extender
  2. 2. Toyota Prius
  3. 3. Hyundai Ioniq PHEV
  4. 4. Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine
  5. 5. Volkswagen Golf GTE
  6. 6. MINI Countryman S E PHEV
  7. 7. BMW 530e
  8. 8. Lexus IS 300h
  9. 9. Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid
  10. 10. Kia Niro PHEV 

1. BMW i3 Range Extender

The range extender doesn’t change the way the BMW i3 drives, as it doesn’t power the rear wheels directly. Instead, it churns into life to replenish the battery when charge drops to 3.5 per cent, which equates to a range of around three miles, or you can set the battery charge level at a certain percentage, and the motor will always kick in when this is reached, to ensure you always have plenty of power on tap.

The 650cc two-cylinder motor and its tiny front-mounted nine-litre fuel tank double the real-world electric range – so that’s around 186 miles, or London to Sheffield.

The all-electric drive of the i3 is one of quiet, comfortable refinement that allows you to enjoy the car’s fantastic interior design, great visibility and nimble dynamics. Its range will cover you for most journeys, too, especially if you live in an urban area.

Let the battery charge dwindle and the range extender rattles into life. It’s reasonably quiet on the move, cutting in once the car is up and running, and switching off when you drop below 8mph if there’s a bit of life left in the battery. But if the cells are really flat, it runs all the time. When the car’s stationary, it sounds like someone’s left a lawnmower running in the boot. In fact, the noise alone is enough to make you get over any range anxiety you might have.

2. Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius is the world's best-selling hybrid, and there's good reason for its success. The petrol-electric hybrid powertrain is reliable, refined and extremely fuel efficient, allowing drivers to travel for short distances in full-electric mode or with a combination of the engine and electric motor. And if you really want to keep fuel consumption to a minimum, the Prius plug-in adds an extra dimension of being able to charge the batteries from the mains.   

Power comes from a 1.8-litre petrol engine with 98bhp and an electric motor. Both units work together for a total of 121bhp. Over short distances – a mile or two at best – and at low speeds the Prius can be powered by the electric motor only, making for silent, emissions-free motoring.

Under normal conditions, both the engine and motor work together seamlessly to provide punchy performance, while the latest car's CVT gearbox isn't as noisy as past models. And while previous Prius models were pretty dull to drive, the current model is surprisingly involving.

Unlike some hybrid models, the Prius has been designed around its drive system, so it has as much space inside as a family hatchback. It can be extended even further by folding the rear seats flat. There is a large digital read-out on the centre of the dash with a variety of eco-driving displays available, and a head-up display is standard while basic kit is generous.

3. Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

The Hyundai Ioniq is the sister car to the Kia Niro, but while that car is a fairly conventional looking crossover, the Ioniq is a slippery looking hatchback in the style of the Toyota Prius.

There are three flavours of Ioniq on sale: a conventional hybrid, a pure electric version and the plug-in hybrid variant.

Like the Niro, the Ioniq looks fairly conventional, and not quite as challenging as a Prius. It has the kind of slippery shape you would normally associate with a hybrid model, though, with a low roofline, small windows and a truncated, high-set rear end.

Under the skin, the Ioniq and Niro are identical, so you get a 104bhp 1.6 GDi petrol engine and a 32kW electric motor, which make a combined 139bhp - although the PHEV is marginally quicker from 0-62mph - and a lithium-ion battery pack under the floor. The PHEV version gets a larger battery pack that allows an all-electric range that Hyundai claims is around 39 miles. There's a six-speed twin-clutch gearbox like the Kia, although if left to its own devices the gearbox can behave much like the CVT found in a Toyota Prius.

Like Kia's Niro, the Ioniq is Hyundai's first hybrid, and while it isn't quite as efficient as the Prius, that slippery shape means it gets closer than the Niro: claimed economy is 83.1mpg for the standard hybrid, which is within striking distance of the +90mpg claimed figure for the Toyota, while the plug-in version claims 257mpg, although you'll be doing well to get halfway to that figure.

As well as a conventional shape, the Ioniq is pretty conventional on the inside, too. The cabin features blue highlights to remind you that it's a hybrid, but apart from that and a few extra trip displays for your economy, the cabin is largely similar to other Hyundai models, such as the i30 and i40

4. Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine

One sector of the new car market that has its fair share of plug-in hybrid models is the SUV class. The Volvo XC60 T8 Twin Engine is one of the latest arrivals. While the Lexus RX 450h pioneered hybrid drive in the class, Volvo introduced plug-in power with the larger XC90, and now it has been added to the XC60 Mk2.

The T8 Twin Engine uses the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor set-up as the XC90 T8, and the combined power output is a very healthy 400bhp. Where the XC60 differs is that it has a larger battery pack, and Volvo claims the T8 can travel a claimed 28 miles on a full charge before the engine cuts in.

Volvo's hi-tech control system allows you to manage power in any way you see fit. You can let the car's electronics manage energy flow to suit where and how you're driving, you can save the battery charge for later use, or you can recharge on the move using the petrol engine as a generator. However, doing this sees fuel economy plummet, and it will only add around 30 per cent charge to the battery, too.

Adding the hybrid system hasn't compromised the XC60's interior space either as the drive system is tucked under the car, and it takes up room where the fuel tank is. But what you lose in range when running on engine power will be made up for with efficient running in electric mode, as long as you plug the T8 in every time you park it.

The XC60 T8 also has sharp looks and an upmarket cabin on its side, although while it's powerful, it's not the most exciting SUV to drive when the road gets twisty. Still, it's a great choice for buyers who want an upmarket SUV that also has a green conscience.

5. Volkswagen Golf GTE

Volkswagen is trying to restore its reputation after the Dieselgate scandal, and the VW Golf GTE is one of the cars that is helping its eco credentials.

The hatchback is a sporty hybrid, although most of that is down to the looks, which use Golf GTI styling cues, but they're picked out in blue instead of red. The hybrid set-up is the same as the one used in the Audi A3 e-tron. That means you get a 1.4 TSI turbo and supercharged petrol engine, while adding the electric system means it has a combined power output of 201bhp.

Like other plug-in hybrid models, the Golf GTE has an electric-drive range of around 20 miles, while the car has driving modes that allow you to store the battery energy for a later time, or even charge the battery on the move, although this latter option does seriously compromise fuel economy.

It's best to let the electronics manage the car's hybrid system automatically to get the best economy, though. There is a GTE button next to the gearlever that turns the electric motor into a booster for the petrol engine, while the suspension, steering and throttle are tweaked to give a sportier drive - there's even rorty engine sounds piped into the cabin.

The GTE is a subtle plug-in that doesn't shout about its eco credentials. The blue pinstripes and blue GTE badges are dotted around the car in the same place as you'll find on a GTI, but thanks to the heavier hybrid running gear, the GTE gets the standard Golf's ride height, so sits taller than the GTI.

Emissions of 40g/km are impressive for a car with hot hatch aspirations, and it means the GTE has been a popular company car choice. The only compromises with Golf GTE are less boot space thanks to the battery pack under the floor, and the fact you need to plug it in every time you park to make the most of its electric efficiency.

6. MINI Countryman S E PHEV

MINI entered the plug-in hybrid sector in 2017 with the Countryman PHEV. From the outside, there's little to distinguish it from the rest of the range, aside from light green logos and a charging flap behind one of the front wheels. 

Under the skin it gets a combined 221bhp, which is more than the supposedly-sporty VW Golf GTE plug-in, and this comes from a three-cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor and 6.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack. That's not quite as big as you'll find in some rivals, so the Countryman PHEV's estimated all-electric range is only around 15-20 miles.

Still, keep the battery topped up, and you should benefit from that all-electric running on short journeys. MINI's claimed economy of 134.5mpg is likely to be unattainable in the real world, but jumbo-bg has been running a Countryman PHEV and we've easily returned more than 60mpg, which is pretty good for a car with 221bhp.

The hybrid system does eat into boot space by 45 litres over the standard Countryman, but there's still a decent amount of room inside, while driving the MINI is just like any other version of the crossover. The switch between electric and petrol drive is smooth, and there's not much noise from the three-cylinder engine, either. The extra weight of the hybrid system does blunt the Countryman's handling, but it's still a fun car to drive when compared to the likes of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and the Kia Niro.

7. BMW 530e

The BMW 530e, alongside the similar but smaller 330e, is one of the sportiest hybrid models around. It uses the firm's iPerformance technology, which is designed to deliver low emissions without compromising BMW's reputation for building sharp handling cars that are entertaining to drive.

Under the bonnet, the 530e uses the 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine from the 520i, but it's joined by an electric motor that boost the car's combined output to 249bhp. Power goes to the rear wheels via BMW's excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox, and with a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds, there's no compromise in terms of this hybrid model's performance.

BMW claims that you can drive up to 29 miles on electric power alone, although there is the option to store the battery energy for use at a later date. Unlike some rivals, you can't recharge the battery pack on the move - BMW has clearly realised that this is a fruitless task, as the amount of energy you recoup into the battery while driving results in a serious drop in fuel efficiency.

Instead, the hybrid system puts back just enough energy to let the electric motor back up the petrol engine for sporty driving. The battery can be fully charged in three hours from a mains plug via the socket on the nearside front wing.

The 530e does feel a bit heavier than a conventionally powered 5 Series, but its sharp handling will be good enough for most drivers, while company car users will be reaping the benefits of 46g/km emissions and the low Benefit in Kind rates that attracts.

From the outside, aside from the charging flap on the front wing, the only clues to the 530e's hybrid system are the badge on the bootlid, badges on the C-pillars and a blue ring around the wheel centre caps, while BMW offers the 530e in SE and M Sport trims, rather than offering it as a standalone model, although there's no 530e Touring estate on offer. 

8. Lexus IS 300h

Lexus has put its faith in hybrid technology more firmly than any other brand. That has sometimes put it at a disadvantage in the competitive premium car market, but you have to admire its commitment and cars like the IS 300h prove that it’s a policy that can work.

With the IS 300h, Lexus has taken a refreshingly different approach to executive travel to produce a serious 3 Series rival. Quality, service and refinement are unbeatable, as is a lengthy kit list, while the hybrid system is super efficient.

For most of the time, the CVT gearbox will add to the sense of calm, but it can frustrate with slow responses and an odd, engineered noise, which are at odds with tidy handling.

Drive gently and you’ll barely hear a thing from under the bonnet, not least because the car will drive on electric power whenever it can. Wind and road noise are minimal, too. Ask for more power and the 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine springs into life, yet the whole system remains smoother and quieter than any diesel.

9. Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid

You couldn’t really call the Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid an economical car, but it does the job of shrinking the environmental and financial cost of running a high-performance 4-door coupe, or Sport Turismo shooting brake, from Porsche.

The Panamera handles as well as a Porsche should, and performance is strong too - you won't regret buying the hybrid model when you put your foot down to overtake.

With claimed 113mpg economy and emissions of 56g/km of CO2, you won't regret buying one when you arrive at the petrol station either. It’s expensive to buy and lease, but it will go for up to 22 miles on electric power alone, and then act as a hybrid combining its electric motor with a 2.9-litre V6 to make 462bhp. Incredibly, company car tax for this car is cheaper than for a BMW 320d.

And you're not just limited to the one e-hybrid model, either. Go for Executive trim for an extended wheelbase and more rear legroom, or the Sport Turismo if you want more boot space, thanks to its shooting brake-style rear end.

Then there's the new flagship of the range, the Turbo S e-hybrid. This combines the twin-turbo V8 of the Turbo model with the hybrid drive system to create the ultimate performance hybrid. With 680bhp, it can sprint from 0-62mph in a barely believable 3.4 seconds, yet still return 66g/km emissions and estimated economy of 97.4mpg.

10. Kia Niro PHEV

Korean firms Hyundai and Kia are delving into the world of hybrids for the first time, and the Kia Niro is the latter firm's first petrol-electric model.

It's essentially the same as the Hyundai Ioniq under the skin, so there's a self-contained hybrid, while a plug-in version has been added to the range, too. But the Niro uses a unique crossover-style body to mark it out from Hyundai's hybrid. It's also intriguing that Kia has built a standalone hybrid model, and the Niro slots between the Ceed hatchback and Sportage crossover in the firm's range.

Under the bonnet sits a 104bhp 1.6 GDi petrol engine and a 32kW electric motor, which combined make 139bhp, while energy is stored in a lithium-ion battery pack, which is bigger in the plug-in model for a claimed electric-only driving range of around 30 miles. Like a Toyota Prius, this set-up shifts energy use between the electric motor and petrol engine as you're driving, but unlike that car, you get a six-speed twin-clutch gearbox rather than a CVT. Unfortunately, the gearbox behaves quite like a CVT transmission some of the time, as it holds on to the revs if you accelerate hard.

However, you soon end up driving the Niro like any other hybrid, as its relative lack of performance means you spend more time maximising fuel efficiency than setting lap times. But with claimed economy figures in the 64-75mpg range (and a claim of 217mpg for the PHEV), the Niro has to give second best to the Prius for outright efficiency.

One thing that should attract buyers over a Prius is the Niro's more restrained looks. The chunky styling fits the current demand for crossovers, with roof bars, black plastic wheelarch extensions and fake skid plates adding to the rugged appearance. Step inside, and the interior is practical for a family of five. The cabin gets a lift, too, thanks to the use of gloss white plastic in places.

What is a hybrid car?

The concept of the hybrid car was first put into mass production by Toyota, with its ubiquitous Prius. The Prius has been on sale for over 20 years now, but the basic concept of a petrol engine mated to an electric motor and battery pack is essentially the same now as it was when it first arrived - all that's changed is that the battery has grown in capacity, while the engine and electric motor have improved performance, too.

Its petrol-electric drive system has been introduced on a number of other models from Toyota and luxury division Lexus, while rival manufacturers are also adopting hybrid drive to help improve fuel economy. The rise in hybrid models is down to emissions legislation, because future emissions limits will no longer be able to be met by petrol or diesel engines alone, so some form of electrical assistance is needed. The current backlash against diesel is helping hybrid sales, too.

Hyundai Ioniq vs Toyota Prius - tracking

While the PHEV and standalone hybrid are the two types of electrification you can get in a car without going the full electric vehicle (EV) route, there are many permutations within that. In its simplest form, as seen in cars like the Toyota Yaris, Renault Scenic and Suzuki's Boosterjet-powered models, the electric motor provides extra power when you put your foot down. There is a limited amount of energy recuperation to the car's battery, while stop-start is also included.

More complex systems, like that in the Prius and the Hyundai Ioniq/Kia Niro twins, are fitted with a larger battery and electric motor, and can run for greater distances on electric power alone, although this will be no more than around a mile at best before the engine cuts in. These models feature additional energy recovery through braking and coasting, and it's possible to top-up the battery capacity through smooth driving.

Another addition to the hybrid ranks are the cars featuring a 48-volt electrical system. This is usually found on high-end models like the Audi SQ7 SUV or Mercedes S-Class limo. The higher voltage system is used to power an array of gadgets, from in-car entertainment to active suspensions systems. But the 48v power supply also includes a mild hybrid system to boost fuel economy by allowing cars to 'coast' on electric power alone on the motorway, for example.

Plug-in hybrids like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Volkswagen's  GTE models or the Volvo XC90 Twin Engine, go a step further still, and feature a plug socket and charging leads so that you can charge the big-capacity battery via the mains. These models can run in electric-only mode for 20-30 miles, and if you do lots of short, local trips and charge the battery regularly, you could easily run on battery power alone for weeks at a time and never need to fill the fuel tank.

Finally, there are range extender hybrids, such as the BMW i3. These cars are essentially electric vehicles (EVs), but they also feature a small-capacity internal combustion engine that can recharge the batteries when they're flat and you don't have access to a mains charging point. Think of the range extender as an EV with a generator on board, and you get the idea - the engine isn't there to power the car, it's just a 'get you home' safeguard should the batteries go flat.

Which hybrid is right for you?

So which hybrid model is best for you? Well, there are a number of factors to consider. With the change in Road Tax laws in 2017, low emissions no longer qualify a car for a free tax disc. You still get a discount, but the Alternative fuel rate is only £10 less at £130 (£440 if the car costs more than £40k). Company car users - who are still liable to Benefit In Kind tax based on a vehicle's emissions - will see great savings from driving a low-emissions vehicle when compared to a standard petrol or diesel model, though.

• Best electric cars on sale

Standalone hybrids are a good choice if you don't have off-street parking that allows you to plug a PHEV in to charge it up. Of course, if you do buy a PHEV, it's not necessary for you to plug it in, but with a high initial purchase price and merely average fuel consumption from the engine when the battery is flat (thanks largely to the extra weight of the hybrid system), you're pouring money down the drain if you never charge a PHEV up while you're using it.

You may also suffer from compromised practicality in a hybrid. That electric system has to go somewhere, and plug-in versions of standard cars will have less boot space or a smaller fuel tank than their conventional counterparts. And if you do lots of motorway miles, a hybrid won't necessarily be any more efficient than a petrol or diesel. That's because at higher speeds the engine will be working with the electric motor providing assistance, thereby harming fuel consumption.

Do you own a hybrid car? Tell us what you think of it in the comments section below and don't forget to complete our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey... 

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