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We pick the very best hybrid SUVs on the road today, with compact, family and luxury models all making the cut
Autocar
News
8 mins read
8 April 2020

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 that are often affordable enough - and, thanks to their 'plug-in' powertrains, also WLTP-emissions-efficient enough - to be run 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 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.

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 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 45e

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 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 which qualifies for the UK government's six-per-cent benefit-in-kind tax bracket.

Happily, what you're also getting here is an enjoyable steer by the standards of most hybrid SUVs, and cabin quality is good enough to shade the Volvo and pretty much anything else on this list, except perhaps the Porsche. If you need hybrid power, the X5 45e is wonderful company.

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2. 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 to (near the) top 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 almost all 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 appeaing 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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3. Honda CR-V Hybrid

Rounding out the podium spots here is a car that isn't a tax-saving plug-in hybrid, but which private buyers should certainly consider; particularly those for whom recharging at home might be difficult. While the Honda CR-V might not be quite as appealing on the eye as its key rival - the Toyota RAV4 - it remains a highly appealing, practical wagon for city-dwelling families and a very practical, drivable, economical and refined real-world prospect.

The hybrid powertrain is smooth and refined around town, while it rides in a comfortable enough manner so as to avoid any great complaint. There’s loads of space inside, and while the infotainment graphics might appear a touch dated, Honda has done an excellent job of isolating the CR-V’s occupants from external road and wind noise.

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4. Mercedes GLE 350de 4Matic

One of Mercedes' latest diesel-electric plug-in hybrids, the GLE 350de comes with a prohibitive-looking £60k pricetag, but it's worth the attention of well-heeled company car drivers thanks to its large drive battery and class-leading WLTP electric-only range of some 57 miles. That will deliver more competitive monthly benefit-in-kind costs that you might think.

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We've only driven the car in Germany so far, and its place in this list stands to improve when we sample it here in the UK. On the continent, however, it impressed us when running in electric and hybrid modes, with good powertrain responsiveness and drivability. The car's 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 'range-extending' diesel engine struggles a little bit to motivate what it a heavy car when the battery's flat.

Ride comfort and isolation is decent, 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 3.5 tonnes on a braked trailer, which is much more than many electrified rivals.

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5. Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine

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's not rated to go quite as far on electric power as some of its rivals, and so won't be as cheap a company car; but it still has plenty of surprisingly classic 'big Volvo' ownership appeal.

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6. Audi Q5 55 TFSIe

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, and neither is the Audi 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.

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7. Volvo XC40 Recharge T5 PHEV

Volvo's 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 with 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 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 cars. Meanwhile if you want genuine room for the family, you'd be well advised to buy something altogether larger.

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8. Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid & Hybrid4

Vauxhall was once a dominant player in the UK company car scene and has ambitions to be again, with the help of this - its first big-volume plug-in hybrid. The petrol-electric Grandland X shares its platform and powertrain with the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4 (which we've yet to test on UK roads). It's more of a mid-sized crossover than a full-sized SUV, then, with passenger space little greater than you might find in a biggish family hatchback.

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Outright performance and electric range are both impressive, however, since the upper-level, twin-motor 'Hybrid4' version of the car has particularly healthy 'total system' power and torque outputs of 296bhp and 383lb ft of torque. On the road, the car doesn't feel quite as quick as those numbers might imply, but it's certainly muscular away from town speeds, with only a certain clunkiness about the hybrid powertrain's blending of power sources adversely affecting your perception of the car's slickness. It's firm-riding out of town and handling isn't perfect, but it's not terrible either.

The car's secret weapon is a WLTP-certified electric range of up to 35 miles, putting it in the 10% 'BIK' tax band. 

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9. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Has been the UK’s best-selling plug-in hybrid car, having stolen a march on other manufacturers in getting to the PHEV SUV niche; and can still offer significant savings over the equivalent diesel family SUV.

A significant facelift in 2018 added a new 2.4-litre engine and improved its ride, and also introduced a few exterior styling tweaks. Electric-only range is around 25 miles, and while it’s possible to drive at pace, it’s far happier to cruise in comfort.

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10. Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid & Turbo S E-Hybrid

In the absence of a diesel variant, the 3.0-litre 'plug-in' E-hybrid is now the most economical Cayenne in Porsche’s line-up. It’ll do 25 miles purely on electric power when required, while the 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 provides the grunt for five-second 0-62mph times and a near 160mph top speed. Driven with more restraint, it’s every bit as comfortable and luxurious as you’d expect from the marque. It doesn't get below 50g/km on the WLTP emission test, however, and so won't make the greatest BIK-saving company car.

And for those who are even less concerned about out-and-out economy, there’s the new Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid too. It’s the fastest, most powerful Cayenne ever produced, with a 671bhp twin-turbo V8 and electric motor combo that enables it to hit 62mph from a standstill in 3.8sec. It’ll cover 25 miles on electric power only, too; although C02 emissions are rated at 110g/km.

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Comments
8

8 November 2018

I had a Lexus NX 300h hybrid as a loan car while my Boxster was being serviced a couple of weeks ago and can't say I was much impressed.  The car first appeared to be softly sprung, rolling quite a bit through roundabouts and bends, but the ride is still strangely brittle: you can feel every ridge and imperfection in the road surface through the seat and even the steering wheel.  Moreover, while smooth and relatively quiet at lower speeds, it sounded strained and gutless when pushed and had little mid-range acceleration.  I had the car for two days and covered about 180 miles of relaxed open road driving, but still used about 3/8ths of a tank of fuel (according to the gauge) suggesting the real-world fuel economy is nothing special either.  This was my first experience of driving a hybrid and I'm far from sold on the concept.

23 January 2019

This is should be in the "Hybrid Hatchbacks" category. Kia try to sell it as a "crossover", but basically it's a family hatchback with a slightly taller than average body style

4 September 2019
sierra wrote:

This is should be in the "Hybrid Hatchbacks" category. Kia try to sell it as a "crossover", but basically it's a family hatchback with a slightly taller than average body style

 

That, in essence, applies to all crossovers. 

1 June 2019

RR sport p440e is the best.

26 September 2019

No matter how I wanted these hybrids, still my pocket clings on 2nd hand crappy car back in my garage. Nice magazine though for some references and reviews, not bad to look forward in the future where my dream car lies beneath the curtains of my 2-storey luxury car garage.

retaining walls perth

23 December 2019

nice

17 March 2020

Please people, if something has space it is said to be spacious. If so it has space. It does not have spaciousness!

5 June 2020

Great article

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