Not quite sold on the idea of electric power? These hybrids might convince you that going green needn't be a chore
25 January 2019

New European emissions legislation and the removal of British government purchase incentives have had a big impact on the market for hybrid hatchbacks. After the deletion of BMW’s range-extended i3, the suspension of Volkswagen’s GTE models and the removal from sale of Audi’s A3 e-tron, this top 10 looks quite different today than it did a year or so ago.

The cars within it all remain driven primarily by a small petrol engine paired to an electric motor, of course. Hybrids provide drivers with the instant torque and pedal response of that electric motor but without the range anxiety that comes with EV ownership – but some offer significantly more zero-emissions assistance than others, also making for greater returns on driveability and real-world fuel economy.

With more choice available than ever, split between conventional ‘self-charging’ hybrids and more expensive plug-in alternatives, we pick out the top 10 best hybrid hatchbacks currently on sale below.

1. Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid

When, in October 2018, the British government removed the £1500 tax incentive formerly applied to plug-in hybrids, the spotlight was shone more brightly than ever on the ones that best combine usability, real-world economy and value.

The Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid has always delivered on that combination better than its PHEV rivals, but now that WLTP emissions laws have, for the moment at least, removed several of its rivals from the UK stage – and now that value for money matters that bit more – it assumes top-of-the-class status among affordable petrol-electric offerings.

Priced at little more than £28,000, this car puts a practical, daily-usable source of low-emissions motoring within the reach of a broad spread of family car buyers. The Ioniq is roomy and pleasant, and while the car’s driving experience isn’t as slick and well resolved as we’ve seen from manufacturers more practised with the technology, it’s entirely passable and mixes combustion power with electric pretty seamlessly most of the time.

Our Verdict

Mini Countryman S E All4

Can this plug-in hybrid successfully meld capability, frugality and performance?

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The car has an electric-only range of about 25 miles in urban use and runs economically enough the rest of the time; not with the frugality of a Toyota Prius or the performance of a Mini Countryman Cooper S E, admittedly, but well enough, and with competent ride and handling, to take class honours.

2. Toyota Prius

The granddaddy of petrol-electric hybrids further refines the formula Toyota developed back in 1997 with its fourth-generation model. The latest version is built on a new platform and its tweaked 1.8-litre petrol engine has improved efficiency and performance.

Overall, the Prius is even more usable than before and genuinely frugal. Although it doesn't look like it ought to be so, the car's greatest asset has become how normal it is to drive: more responsive on part throttle, well within its comfort zone at high speeds, and genuinely quite rounded.

A sub-£25k price seals the deal for the best-selling hybrid car the world has ever known – and, in this class, particularly for those who want to save money at the pump, it takes some serious beating.

3. Mini Countryman Cooper S E All4

Mini is growing and maturing as a car brand, and that’s evident in this second-generation Countryman – a car that is more practical and multi-faceted than before, and is also available as an impressive, if expensive, plug-in hybrid.

Like all Minis, the Countryman Cooper S E is characterful, desirable, quite firmly sprung and spirited to drive – but it also offers decent space for passengers and luggage, four-wheel drive, a combined 221bhp of peak petrol-electric power, 284lb ft of torque and the potential for sub-7.0sec 0-62mph sprinting. Very few other PHEV options have such a varied hand of attributes.

The car’s off-road ability is to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but if its value for money is considered in light of everything it offers, Mini-brand desirability included, it’s an appealing option – and one fully deserving of a podium place in this chart.

4. Toyota Prius Plug-in

Toyota’s premium-priced Prius, the Plug-in, softens the controversial styling of the regular car – but that’s unlikely to be the only reason you might be interested in it. It offers not only a bigger drive battery than the standard car’s which can, of course, be charged from the mains, but also a more powerful electric motor.

That combination of extra zero-emissions power and electric range makes this Prius even more efficient than the standard version. Toyota claims an eyebrow-raising 283mpg for the car on the NEDC combined lab cycle – and whether you’ll see that depends mostly on how short your journeys tend to be and how often you can charge. The drive battery gives the car a real-world electric range of about 25 miles on mixed roads, but even our old long-term test car averaged just over 96mpg over a 10,000-mile, six-month stay with us.

The car has a more devoted, or perhaps one-dimensional, economy driving character than other PHEVs, with a modest 120bhp in total and needing a shade over 11 seconds to hit 62mph from rest. But if efficiency is what you want most from your petrol-electric motoring and you’re in a position to charge an EV either at home or work, it could be exactly the car you need.

Hyundai has launched three model derivatives under the Ioniq name since 2016 – a hybrid, plug-in hybrid and a fully electric option – and while it lacks the roster of virtues of its plug-in equivalent, the regular hybrid is the cheapest of the lot; it makes frugal petrol-electric power available for a Prius-bashing £21k.

As first attempts go, the Ioniq’s dedicated economy-car treatment is a pretty solid and inoffensive-looking one – particularly if you’re put off by the left-field looks of the car’s key Toyota rival.

The hybrid version earns its spurs by being practical, frugal and affordable, but if it is a rounded, polished, uncompromised drive you're after, look elsewhere.

6. Kia Niro

Just as is the case with the Hyundai Ioniq, the Kia Niro SUV is available in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric forms. Both hybrid and PHEV mate a 1.6-litre petrol engine with a 43bhp electric motor for a peak 139bhp and 191lb ft of torque, and both are front-wheel drive, using a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

The only meaningful difference the plug-in hybrid offers, besides a socket via which to plug it in, is a bigger drive battery (8.9kWh vs 1.6) – so there’s no extra electric performance associated with the PHEV here.

Being an SUV, the Niro offers good practicality and convenience compared with a regular five-door hatchback, although its driveability and handling aren’t as polished as other hybrids we’ve tested, and its real-world economy isn’t a match for the best, either.

The fully electric e-Niro, by contrast, is one of the most compelling and convincing affordable electric family cars on the market – so if you were considering any Niro, the full EV is the one we’d recommend.

7. BMW 225xe iPerformance 

This rare plug-in hybrid compact MPV offers its owners plenty of flexible passenger and carrying space. Using the same electric rear axle arrangement as the Mini Countryman above, it brings four-wheel drive to the table as well, and because it matches the Mini’s power and torque outputs precisely, it’s also no slouch in performance terms. BMW claims a 6.7sec 0-62mph dash and a 126mph top speed.

That BMW charges more than £35,000 for the entry-level version takes the edge off the car’s allure a little bit, but it does at least offer standard equipment that includes 17in alloy wheels, sports seats, navigation with real-time traffic information and more.

The packaging of the car’s hybrid tech means you get slightly less boot space (400 litres) than in other Active Tourers (but still plenty overall) and you don’t get a sliding rear bench. Handling is surprisingly taut, balanced and grippy for a car that’s relatively upright and heavy.

8. Toyota Prius+

The seven-seat version of Toyota’s iconic hybrid isn’t the best of the bunch. On practicality, it certainly goes further than any derivative with the same name, and given that’s the car’s primary function, some might call it a success. Some - but not many, we fear.

Into a footprint that’s just over 100mm longer than that of the regular Prius, the Prius+ squeezes three rows of seats. The middle ones are just about big enough to accommodate adults; the rearmost are for children only. But with the seats folded, you get a boot big enough for folded bikes and bulky items, making this the only Prius well suited to the marketing department’s favourite: customers with 'active lifestyles'.

A heavily laden Prius+ will not be a car with an authoritative turn of pace, mind you. The car develops only marginally more power than the regular Prius and is advertised as being the better part of a second slower to 62mph. This isn’t one of Toyota’s more driveable or responsive hybrid powertrains, either, and while handling is tidier than you’d expect, the ride is short on pliancy.

9. Kia Optima PHEV

The Kia Optima mid-sized executive car was the first recipient of the Korean manufacturer’s plug-in hybrid powertrain.

The Optima is available in both saloon and estate form and both feel upmarket and refined. However, the PHEV powertain lacks any real driving thrills, and the car isn’t fitted or finished quite as well as its German rivals.

10. Ford Mondeo Hybrid

The trusty Mondeo just keeps on doing what it has always done well – and that’s ride and handle; and plenty won’t even know there’s a petrol-electric saloon-only version.

The fourth-generation car gives the big Ford a more striking look and a more impressive interior compared with previous iterations, although the cabin is still short on perceived quality next to the car’s closest opponents.

Punching out a not-insubstantial 184bhp, the hybrid Mondeo petrol-electric powertrain (which combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor) remains a competent car dynamically, with emissions dipping below 100g/km. The car’s mass makes that power output seem weedier than you might think, though, while the car’s CVT gearbox seems to sap some of it too.

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