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Best hybrid cars and PHEVs 2021

Published: 25 October 2021

 The best hybrid cars on sale in 2021
 Our pick of the best part-electric buys
 PHEVs, plug-ins and 'self-charging' hybrids

Still not completely sold on electric cars? Whether it’s range, price or something else hold you back – a hybrid should be at the top of your list. Hybrid cars provide a blend of efficiency, huge range and low emissions – and a few of them are very powerful too. 

The government announcement banning fossil fuels from 2030 has an important sub-clause that extends the life of hybrids to 2035: 'Between 2030 and 2035, new cars and vans can be sold if they have the capability to drive a significant distance with zero emissions (for example, plug-in hybrids or full hybrids), and this will be defined through consultation. Essentially, it means hybrid cars to continue for the next decade and a half.

The best hybrid cars to buy in 2021

If you already know which type of UK hybrid you’re interested in, click on the links below to jump to our pick of the cars on sale in each sector (some more popular sectors such as hybrid 4x4s have been hived off into their own separate pages):

If you mostly drive around town, why not consider a pure electric car which now make up more than 5% of UK new car registrations? But if your typical driving falls somewhere between these extremes - as it does for many UK motorists -  a hybrid may be just the answer you're looking for.

Best hybrid family cars

1. VW Golf GTE

VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid: the new Mk8 is here

The new Volkswagen Golf GTE is a greater introduction to the plug-in hybrid genre. It packs a bigger 13kWh lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor alongside the familiar VW Group 1.4 TSI engine for a punchy 242bhp system output. No wonder it's as quick as a Golf GTI, yet can travel up to 32 miles on silent, saintly EV power...

More on the new VW Golf GTE 

View Golf GTE lease deals

2. BMW 330e

BMW 330e: the plug-in hybrid 3-series is here

A classic of the breed, the BMW 3-series hybrid adds an 87bhp electric motor to the familiar 2.0-litre engine, bringing a theoretical 25-mile electric range and some attractive tax breaks, saving company car drivers a good couple of hundred pounds a month. It’s now available as a dive-door Touring estate as well as the four-door saloon.

BMW 330e hybrid review

View BMW 330e lease deals

3.  Skoda Octavia iV

Like all plug-ins the Octavia makes sense for regular, reliable journeys within its electric range (which in fairness is usefully long) and the occasional longer jaunt on petrol power. Basically, it’s a great company car if you live 20-30 miles from the office, and still visit it five days a week.

Its ultra-low 6% BiK rate thanks to low CO2 and decent e-range means it’s good value for business use, although perhaps not so good as those willing and able to take the plunge into a full EV

Read our Skoda Octavia iV review

4. Mercedes-Benz C-Class C300e

Mercedes-Benz C-Class hybrids: soon with diesel options too

If you’re still wondering whether the plug-in hybrid is a true alternative to a diesel-powered car, the Mercedes C300e answers that with an emphatic ‘yes’. With battery technology getting ever cleverer, this PHEV Merc boasts some seriously impressive official figures.

Battery capacity is up from 13.5kWh to a far more serious 25.4kWh, enough to lift range to a WLTP certified 62 miles, far more than the BMW 330e and pretty much every other plug-in out there. If you’re after a plug-in hybrid to save the planet or a few pounds, it’s hard to ignore the C300e’s numerous charms. In its natural environment of the motorway it’s a more accomplished cruiser even without fancy adaptive dampers, and the real world electric range is astonishingly good.

Our Mercedes-Benz C-Class review 

View Mercedes-Benz C-Class lease deals

5. Land Rover Defender PHEV

Land Rover Defender hybrid: rough and ready for silent e-running

We've gathered our favourite hybrid SUVs in a separate guide here, but if you're shopping for a plug-in off-roader there is now a lot of choice - and the new Land Rover Defender hybrid is among the front-runners. The new Defender P400e mixes the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine with a powerful electric motor, giving a combined 398bhp system output - and enough range to drive 27 miles on electric power. Land Rover quotes CO2 emissions of just 74g/km and 85.3mpg combined economy.

Land Rover Defender review 

View Land Rover Defender lease deals

Best hybrid estate cars

1. Skoda Superb Estate iV

Skoda Superb Estate iV hybrid

The Skoda Superb has long been the go-to estate car for those wanting towering space, decent value and the slick execution that VW's 'budget' brand now promises across the board. Adding hybrid powertrain to the mix only makes it more compelling - the iV badge denotes this is the plug-in hybrid version, matching a 1.4 TSI petrol engine with a 85kW electric motor aiding the front wheels. Result? Skoda quotes CO2 emissions below 40g/km, a 7.7sec 0-62mph time and electric-only running of up to 37 miles. It's a tempting combination. 

On test: our Skoda Superb review 

View Skoda Superb lease deals

2. Toyota Corolla Touring Sports Hybrid

Toyota Corolla estate hybrid

Priced from around £28,000, you can pick up the wagon bodystyle in the Corolla Hybrid to electrify your family lugging duties. Toyota claims up to 55mpg and CO2 emissions stand at 112g/km to trim your running costs. Toyota's hybrid car knowledge, specs and experience all wrapped up in a surprisingly practical bodyshell. The icing on the cake? It's made in the United Kingdom, so you'll be doing your bit to support local manufacturing.

On test: the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports Hybrid

View Toyota Corolla lease deals

3. Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine

Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine hybrid

Volvo offers most of its big cars with Twin Engine hybrid spec, and one of our favourite is the big V90 estate. This is a good-looking car - and quick to boot, with a combined power output of 400bhp from the petrol and electric motors.  If the V90 is too big, don’t forget you can pick any of the 90- or 60-series models with the same Twin Engine hybrid tech.

Volvo V90 hybrid on test 

View Volvo V90 lease deals

4. VW Passat Estate GTE

VW Passat Estate GTE: this hybrid is so popular, they've taken it off sale!

The familiar Volkswagen Passat Estate bodystyle lends itself well to a hybrid application. Unfortunately, like the Golf GTE plug-in, the Passat is currently delisted on VW’s UK website ‘owing to high demand.’

Volkswagen Passast GTE plug-in hybrid reviewed

View Volkswagen Passat GTE lease deals

5. Peugeot 508 Hybrid SW

The estate version of the Peugeot 508 SW. Few cars in this sector have such visual drama inside and out as the 508 does. Mid-range Allure spec and below don’t get those cool ‘fang’ daytime running lights but, even without them, it’s a sleek shape. 

Inside, Peugeot’s i-Cockpit design still looks fresh and material quality is impressive. You still have to endure PSA’s rather fiddly infotainment system, but the glossy widescreen layout in the dash is the most high-resolution version we’ve seen of it.

For the Hybrid version, there’s an extra button with a little lightning bolt on the piano key-esque dashboard arrangement. It allows you to charge the battery on the move (at the cost of fuel efficiency) and manage charging times. It also shows you the energy flow graphic – a staple of hybrid cars – which can be seen in the i-Cockpit digital instruments, too.

Best hybrid sports cars

1. Lexus LC500h

Lexus LC500h hybrid

Good-looking? Check. Rare and exclusive? You betcha. The Lexus LC is available with pure V8 power, or as a hybrid - and you can’t go far wrong with the petrol-electric version. You forego a pair of cylinders, but the 3.5-litre V6 still has decent performance and Lexus quotes a 0-62mph time of less than five seconds while top speed is pegged to 155mph. Lexus quotes 44mpg, but you’ll more likely find your average starting with the digit ‘3.’

Lexus LC review

View Lexus LC lease deals

How do they work? 

There are different types of hybrid car: some (especially Toyotas) are called 'self-charging' and never need plugging in, while other, newer models are often branded as plug-in hybrids (often shortened to PHEV for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). We've a full tech explainer here.

In all hybrids, an electric motor will typically do a lot of the work driving the car – giving you clean and quiet running around town. Head further afield or apply some heavy acceleration, though, and the hybrid’s petrol or diesel engine will kick in, allowing you to drive for as long as you’ve got fuel in the easily refilled tank. Neat, huh?

Hybrid cars: further reading

Are they cheap to run? 

Hybrids are nothing new; the first petrol-electric cars arrived in the late 1990s, led by the original Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. The taxman has favoured these low-emissions vehicles in the two decades since and there remain attractive financial advantages: you’ll avoid the high purchase price of a pure battery electric vehicle (BEV) and potentially benefit from less expensive company car tax, VED, ultra-low emissions zone (LEZ) charges and Congestion Charge tolls – especially if you live in London, where these taxes are being pioneered.

Sadly, the government's Plug In Car Grant is no longer applicable to hybrid cars; only full electric models now qualify for the grant, which can lop up to £3000 off the sticker price of an EV.

By CAR's road test team

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds