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We pick the very best hybrid SUVs on the road, with compact, family and luxury models all making the cut
Autocar
News
9 mins read
9 April 2021

Hybrid SUVs are suddenly big business for all kinds of European car makers. Combining the fashionable sheen of an added-utility SUV bodystyle with a low-emissions electrified powertrain, they are practical, desirable family cars, some of which have become increasingly affordable - and, thanks to their plug-in powertrains, also WLTP-emissions-efficient enough to be run cheaply as company cars. Some of them even offer a bit of high-performance appeal, ticking just about every box going.

Hybrid powertrains combine the silent, emission-free driving of an EV with a traditional fuel tank that eliminates range anxiety. If you’re not quite ready to make the switch to an all-electric car, then, they may well be the perfect compromise. The government may not give you a grant to buy one any more, but the differences to your wallet may very well still make a plug-in hybrid worth the investment even if you're a private buyer.

They make particular financial sense in an SUV, where the equivalent diesel or petrol model can cost significantly more as a company car. Taller, larger SUVs have more room than hatchbacks, too, so the complex hybrid systems often don’t eat into cabin or boot space.

We’ve driven every hybrid SUV on sale in the UK today and have picked our favourites from the compact, family and luxury segments.

1. BMW X5 xDrive45e

The new BMW X5 plug-in hybrid has gained two extra cylinders yet somehow become more economical (on the official WLTP economy cycle at least) and more benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax-efficient at the same time. This feat has been achieved primarily thanks to a significant increase in battery capacity: the car now has 24kWh of the stuff, up from just 9.2kWh in the previous-generation X5 xDrive40e, and having a claimed electric range of 40 miles or more therefore is also one of very few PHEV options currently on sale that qualifies for the UK government's 7% BIK tax bracket.

Happily, what you're also getting here is an enjoyable steer by the standards of most hybrid SUVs. BMW's six-cylinder turbo petrol combines very nicely with the electric motor and makes plenty of power and torque, and cabin quality is good enough to shade the Volvo and pretty much anything else on this list. If you need plug-in hybrid power, the X5 xDrive45e is wonderful company.

Save money with new BMW X5 deals on What Car?

2. Toyota RAV4 PHEV/Suzuki Across PHEV

While these two Japanese SUVs might wear different badges on their noses, they are effectively one and the same thing. Both the RAV4 PHEV and Suzuki Across PHEV are based around Toyota's 2.5-litre plug-in hybrid powertrain, they share the same TNGA platform, the same spacious interiors, and both promise an impressive electric-only range - courtesy of their shared 18.1kWh battery.

It’s rare that you find a plug-in hybrid capable of matching its manufacturer's claim, but these cars do just that. During our road test of the Suzuki Across, we were able to travel 48 miles on electricity before its hybrid powertrain sparked back into life - a seriously impressive feat. Provided you’ve got access to a home charger, it’s entirely likely that you’d barely ever use the petrol motor.

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Do so, though, and you’ll find that it’s both impressively potent in terms of its straight-line punch, and surprisingly frugal, too. Even with the drive battery drained, it can still easily return an economy figure that reaches into the mid-40s. That it handles in a really assured, confident fashion and rides calmly are further strings to its bow.

Some might baulk at their £45,000-plus prices, but a BIK rating of 7% should appeal to company car drivers. It’s worth noting, too, that while the RAV4 can charge at a rate of 6.6kW, the Suzuki is limited to 3.3kW.

3. Land Rover Discovery Sport P300e

Britain's blue-chip 4x4 specialist wasn't one of the first to the plug-in SUV niche, but it has recently launched a pair of compact SUV PHEVs. The Discovery Sport P300e is perhaps a shade less visually desirable than its Evoque PHEV relation, but it makes up for that with plenty of interior space and 4x4 capability. Even though, unlike other versions of the car, the P300e isn't available with seven seats, it retains its sliding second row.

The car combines an all-new three-cylinder Ingenium petrol engine and smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox up front with a powerful electric motor on the rear axle and a 15kWh drive battery. Claimed electric range is painfully close to the magic 40-mile marker (some versions of the car may yet exceed it); but even at just below it, with a real-world 30 miles possible on electric power, this plug-in Disco will go further than plenty of its rivals without rousing its pistons. Unlike a lot of PHEVs, it'll also do DC rapid charging when you're out and about at up to 32kW, which should come in very handy.

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The car has a convincing aura of luxury, riding very comfortably indeed, remaining refined at all times and performing with plenty of torque and impressive smoothness. The edge of its appeal may be blunted for some by its 'range-extended' fuel economy, though, which is around 33mpg.

Save money with new Land Rover Discovery Sport deals on What Car?

4. Ford Kuga Plug-in Hybrid

Now in its third-generation form, the popular Ford Kuga has finally discovered electrification. The range-topping plug-in hybrid version jumps straight into the upper echelons of this hybrid SUV chart for several reasons but none is more important than the car's BIK-tax-defining, lab-test-certified electric range, which, at just in excess of 30 miles, will make it cheaper to run for a fleet driver than plenty of its rivals.

The Kuga follows up that advantage in familiar ways. It's typically poised and sporty-feeling in its ride and handling, steering sweetly by class standards and maintaining good body control at all times, with a fairly taut but comfortable ride. The car's 2.5-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine, combined with its electric motor, doesn't give it commanding performance, with the car's transmission appearing to sap some of what's available. Even so, 0-62mph in less than 10sec is at least competitive for a car like this, and drivability is fine. Refinement is also surprisingly good.

Practicality is competitive for a compact SUV, and pricing for retail buyers is realistic. All up, as sensible and recommendable a Kuga as ever there was one.

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Save money with new Ford Kuga deals on What Car?

5. Mercedes-Benz GLE 350de 4Matic

One of Mercedes' latest diesel-electric plug-in hybrids, the GLE 350de comes with a prohibitive-looking £65k price, but it's worthy of the attention of well-heeled company car drivers thanks to its large drive battery and class-leading WLTP electric-only range of 61 miles. That will deliver more competitive monthly BIK costs than you might think.

The car impressed us when running in electric and hybrid modes, with good powertrain responsiveness and drivability and excellent refinement. Its 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 'range-extending' diesel engine struggles a little bit to motivate what is a heavy car when the battery's flat; but with a real-world range that genuinely extends very close to the advertised claim, you might find that you don't use the combustion engine too often.

Ride comfort and isolation are very good, showing less evidence of the added weight of the car's electrified powertrain than its handling, which is a little bit soft and remote.

Meanwhile, for those with the added capability of a classic SUV in mind, the GLE 350de should also appeal as a tow car: it's rated to tow up to 2.7 tonnes on a braked trailer, which is much more than many electrified rivals.

Save money with new Mercedes GLE deals on What Car?

6. Kia Sorento PHEV

The Sorento PHEV is one of a small handful of seven-seat plug-in hybrids on the market and, being a Kia, it doesn’t come with an exorbitant price. For a company car driver with a family in tow, this could be a done deal.

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It makes use of a 1.6-turbocharged petrol engine and a beefier electric motor than you get in the underwhelming Sorento Hybrid, as well as a larger, 13.8kWh battery pack. Kia claims that it can travel up to 35 miles on electrons alone, which slots it nicely into the 11% BIK band. Performance is good in both electric and hybrid running modes, and while it’s hardly a vehicle to inspire a more spirited style of driving, it does at least handle with plenty of confidence - even if it wallows a bit on lumpier stretches of road.

Standard equipment is really strong, even in lower-end models, and the cabin is genuinely vast. Material quality might not be on quite the same level as that of some European rivals, but for sheer utility appeal, the Sorento is tough to beat. Not many seven-seat SUVs can comfortably accommodate adult passengers in their third rows, after all.

7. Volvo XC90 Recharge T8

Genuinely usable seven-seat cabins are few and far between, and ones with plug-in hybrid powertrains even more so. Volvo’s largest SUV manages both, with a fantastic blend of spaciousness, styling, cabin ambience and engine efficiency, beyond what you’d expect from a vehicle of its size.

It can travel just over 30 miles on electric power alone so falls into the 11% BIK bracket, meaning it isn’t quite as tax-efficient as plug-in versions of the BMW X5 or Mercedes GLE. That said, it still has plenty of surprisingly classic 'big Volvo' ownership appeal.

Save money with new Volvo XC90 deals on What Car? 

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8. Audi Q5 55 TFSIe

This Audi is more refined on the move and sharper from behind the wheel than the Volvo XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid. Claimed electric range is nothing special, at 26 miles, so tax-efficiency could be better. Neither is it as practical as the Volvo, but its polish wins out in the end, and it's also quicker than most hot hatches in a straight line.

It’s also dutifully comfortable on all surfaces and at all speeds, even on 19in wheels and standard steel suspension (optional air suspension is available on higher trim levels). Refinement is top-notch, even when the engine kicks in, and it delivers a decently sporty note if you really open the taps.

Save money with new Audi Q5 deals on What Car? 

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9. BMW X3 xDrive30e

BMW has generally done very well in applying itself to the challenge of plug-in hybrid propulsion, and the presence of the X5 PHEV at the top of this chart is testament to that. The equivalent version of the X3 isn't quite such a fantasic advert for BMW, though.

It uses the same 2.0-litre petrol engine and 12kWh battery at the 330e saloon, but because it's bigger and heavier than that car, it doesn't apply them quite as well. Outright performance is good, although not outstanding, but electric range is a bit disappointing, at a real-world 20 miles or so, and electric-only performance is a little bit meek.

Part of the problem here is your own expectation. The X3's low-rise crossover profile and its reputation as a BMW for driver reward lead you to expect dynamic qualities that this X3 can't really deliver upon. It remains a competitive PHEV offering in some ways, but it's also one that loses out on boot space in its adaption for plug-in power.

Save money with new BMW X3 deals from What Car? 

10. Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 PHEV

Volvo has been offering bigger plug-in hybrid SUVs for some time but has only just got around to miniaturising the petrol-electric recipe in its visually appealing XC40.

This car combines a three-cylinder 178bhp turbocharged petrol engine mounted up front with an electric rear axle that has up to 80bhp to contribute. Your maths needn't be advanced to work out that it won't, therefore, be the quickest or most exciting car of its kind, with total system power pegged at a maximum 258bhp. Performance is nonetheless pretty strong-feeling, though, and the three-pot engine is not unpleasant to listen to when it's running - although power delivery could be smoother.

If you want comfort from your SUV, you'd be well advised to avoid the sports suspension of R-Design trim. And f you need genuine room for the family, buy something altogether larger.

Save money with new Volvo XC40 deals from What Car? 

 

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And so what actually 12 April 2021

these are all PHEVs, is that the only type of Hybrid? 

They can easily cheat their emissions tests in the real world. These are heavy cars often not being charged by the user.

Why not include a FHEV or 2 to mix it up?

lawrence romero 2 November 2020

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Kit Waldon 5 June 2020

great article

Great article

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