Currently reading: Top 10 best plug-in hybrid executive cars 2021
PHEVs are fast becoming some of the most important cars on our roads as more of us switch from pure combustion to electrified power. These are our favourites
Autocar
News
12 mins read
5 October 2021

The impact of progressive changes made to CO2-based benefit-in-kind taxation and to corporation tax in the UK since 2019 has given company car drivers a pretty stark choice: either opt out of your employer's fleet scheme and into the car market first hand, or stay in and switch to a plug-in hybrid car.

The legacy of those changes can already be seen in the growing popularity of 'PHEV' executive cars. As those cars attract a greater following, so the number of models competing grows. There are now many more electrified executive cars than we can list in a top ten chart, ranging from sub-£40,000 affordable options to more expensive pseudo-performance models.

For all of them, annual benefit-in-kind tax liability can be roughly worked out in same way: by multiplying the car's 'P11d' showroom price by its 'BIK' tax bracket, and then by your own income tax rate. A plug-in hybrid's benefit-in-kind classification, meanwhile, is defined in part by its CO2 emissions and in part by its electric-only range. So right now, for the 2021-22 tax year, the most tax-efficient cars in this list could qualify for 'BIK' at just seven per cent of their showroom value; and the least efficient, depending on individual specification, could cost as much as 14 per cent (to a typical company car driver, the difference between the two could be worth £100-a-month). Most conventionally powered executive cars, by contrast, would now qualify for BIK company car tax at 30 per cent or more

As many company car drivers will have already discovered to their cost, if you want to continue paying anything like the same benefit-in-kind tax on a company car in 2021 as you have in past, the only way to do it – if you haven’t already – is to move out of a petrol or diesel car and into a PHEV. These are the cars you should be considering for that big move.

1Mercedes C300e

Having been in a period of relative stability for eighteen months or so, the plug-in hybrid executive car segment is about to go into another phase of rapid change, with fresh metal waiting in the wings to bring big improvements in real-world electric range to the class. And the first car to have hit the ground ready to lead the change is the latest 'W206'-generation Mercedes C-Class, which launches in the UK in PHEV later this year.

Packing a drive battery twice the size of many of its rivals, the new C300e brings with it a claimed WLTP electric range of some 62 miles. That's enough not only to make the car particularly tax-efficient, but also to make a big difference to the saving the car could deliver for drivers who pay for their own fuel. DC rapid charging will be available as an option, at speeds of up to 55kW.

The C300e's powerplant is comprised of a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine and a 127bhp electric motor, and makes 308bhp in all, in a car that can crack 62mph from rest in just 6.1sec. The car will be available in both saloon and estate bodystyles with no significant compromise to either passenger or boot space.

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So far we've only driven a left-hand drive example on UK roads, but it impressed us with its refinement and isolation, and also with its laid-back, luxury-first, S-Class-in-miniature vibes. Keener drivers may probably still prefer to shop elsewhere - but for most fleet drivers and operators, the Mercedes C300e is sure to be a popular option.

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2BMW 330e

BMW’s competitors have followed its lead so many times when seeking success in the UK fleet market over the past few decades. It makes perfect sense, then, that BMW was the first premium brand to offer the market a really convincing plug-in hybrid executive option in the shape of the previous 330e, and that it should continue at the sharp end of the field with the current one.

The latest 330e combines a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with an electric drive motor mounted upstream of the gearbox, making it handle and behave much like any other G20-generation 3 Series. It imposes a relative penalty on boot space compared with its conventionally powered siblings, but it’s unlikely that typical business users will notice the shortage, and cabin space is unharmed.

With up to 288bhp of combined electric and petrol urge, the 330e has a fleet turn of pace and its powertrain feels particularly responsive as well as slick-shifting. The weight of that hybrid powertrain can be detected only slightly, and only really in its occasionally permissive high-speed vertical body control. Most of the time, the 330e just feels like an agile, entertaining, first-rate 3 Series in its sporting driver appeal.

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The 330e has a WLTP-certified electric-only range of 37 miles, putting it in the mid-range 11% BIK tax bracket for PHEV options for the 2021-22 tax year, but it remains a really compelling proposition on the basis of its sweet compromise of showroom price, performance, dynamism and tax-efficiency.

Save money with new 3 Series deals from What Car?

3. Volvo V90 Recharge T6

Volvo's history of offering its estate cars with a plug-in hybrid powertrain stretches back further than most in the business, but the recent V90 Recharge T6 is without doubt its most successful attempt at the recipe, and an outstanding all-rounder. 

The car has a modest 11.6kWh battery pack, which means that right now some rivals will go further on electric power alone; although a revised model will very soon come with a much larger drive battery pushing electric range beyond 50 miles. With 335bhp all in, the current version clearly isn't the most powerful PHEV that Volvo has made either. But the V90 T6 does offer usable zero-emission range and, when you need, more than enough performance. Another advantage the V90 T6 holds in the PHEV arena is that you can buy it with four-wheel drive, which isn't true of some rivals from the premium German brands. 

The Skoda Superb iV (below) may be less expensive and every bit as spacious inside, but it lacks the Volvo's calling-card rich cabin ambience and its supremely relaxing rolling character. This is how a big Volvo should feel: refined, absorbent, mature and brilliantly versatile to simple use.

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4. Peugeot 508 PSE

Those who like their executive car with a dash of alternative French flavour and plenty of performance appeal will appreciate Peugeot's most recent PHEV option: the 508 Peugeot Sport Engineered. This is a plug-in hybrid with twin drive motors, four driven wheels and 355bhp in all, squeezed into a package which continues to feel more compact than many in the executive market and also offers plenty of sporting appeal.

The 508 PSE isn't the cheapest option in our list, nor is it the most tax-efficient (a 13-per-cent BIK liability is the best you could hope for of it thanks to that 26-mile electric range) - but it does combine electrified powertrain technology with performance-car dynamism quite successfully where rivals have struggled. Peugeot's steering and damper tuning are both high points, and while the car's 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine lacks the combustive richness of some, the car has plenty of thrust.

Coming in both 'fastback' saloon and estate bodies, the 508 PSE is a welcome breath of fresh air in a pretty stuff PHEV segment, and it shows that picking an environmentally responsible option needn't mean putting up with boring.

Save money with new 508 deals from What Car?

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5. BMW 545e xDrive

Unlike the 530e, this particular plug-in 5 Series mates BMW’s excellent 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six engine with an electric drive motor, resulting in a combined output of 388bhp and 442lb ft. A battery of 12kWh of gross capacity enables an electric-only range of up to 34 miles, depending on equipment. Add that to CO2 emissions of 38g/km, and the 545e is set to get a BIK tax rating of either 11- or 13 per cent, depending on how you equip it.

Performance is strong - equal in objective terms, in fact, to that of the legendary 'E39' M5 super saloon of 1990s - and the transition from electric to petrol power is barely detectable. Acceleration is suitably potent, too. Put your foot down and the 545e will hit big speeds quickly and with very little in the way of discernable effort. Ride comfort remains very good.

But the 545e’s trump card is that it can handle with BMW-typical precision, balance, energy and control - despite the additional weight of its electrified powertrain. The battery might be positioned towards the rear of the car, but the 545e nonetheless feels poised through faster corners, and its all-wheel drive system affords excellent traction. Standard runflat tyres do put a dampener on the car's commicative faculties, and prevent it from developing the last word in adhesive grip.

Even so, this car should be a natural choice for PHEV shoppers who can pay a premium for a genuinely sporting option.

Save money with new 5-Series deals from What Car?

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6. Skoda Superb iV

Skoda may have been busting a gut to change perceptions of its brand of late, but when the opportunity to bring some simple metal-for-the-money value to the plug-in hybrid market presented recently, it didn’t blink. It launched the fleet-friendly Superb iV: a car that uses the engine and hybrid drivetrain with which drivers of the Volkswagen Passat GTE have become familiar over the past few years, but it packages them in a bigger family car that's on offer at a lower list price. Simply clever, or just downright simple? Either way, it got our attention.

The Superb iV is surprisingly normal, considering it was Skoda’s first plug-in hybrid. It doesn’t promise a particularly exciting driving experience, nor is it loaded with ritzy on-board technology or clothed in novel styling features in order to advertise its electrified credentials. It drives, ride and handles pretty much like any other Superb – which means it’s fairly softly sprung and comfort-oriented, and it's easy-going rather than alert and energetic in its pedal responses.

The sheer size of any Superb ought to be a selling point for some, and the iV version is no different. Even though the battery eats into boot space a little, there’s still 485 litres available in the hatchback version and more still in the estate. Electric range is WLTP-rated at 35 miles for an 11% BIK tax rating.

If you’re looking for a roomy and cost-effective PHEV option that feels normal, rather than novel (read ‘a bit funny’), to drive, look no further.

Save money with new Superb deals from What Car?

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7. Mercedes-Benz E300de

Mercedes is the only player in the PHEV segment offering the combination of a diesel engine and electric propulsion. In the E300de, it also allows you to choose a saloon or estate bodystyle, which is another advantage that isn’t as widely available as you might imagine. For those reasons and others, the E300de makes the cut for this chart.

Electric range only just scrapes a WLTP-certified 30 miles, although that will depend on optional specification, so the car may well miss an 11% BIK banding if you opt for bigger wheels or a sportier trim. The fact that it’s easy to add options and turn this into a £50,000-plus prospect will also have an impact on its tax efficiency, of course.

In the real world, our testing suggests that 22-25 miles is as far as the E300de will run without rousing its four-pot diesel engine. And yet considering it has only four cylinders, its performance is impressively swift. Clever power management makes it easy to capture and recycle energy without realising you’re doing it, and the handling is quietly deft and fairly precise for what is, after all, a two-tonne car.

Mercedes’ hybrid battery installation does take up some boot space, but it doesn’t prevent the E300de being a supremely practical car – particularly in estate form – as well as a smart, desirable and real-world-efficient one.

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8. Volkswagen Arteon eHybrid

Volkswagen's extra-desirable executive option, the Arteon, had a facelift in late 2020 and now comes with a choice of fastback saloon or shooting brake estate bodies, as well as with plug-in hybrid power if you want it. And those two changes broaden the appeal of the car considerably, because in our view the car's estate body adds to the car's visual appeal while the petrol-electric powertrain will strengthen the rational argument to choose one.

The eHybrid uses the VW Group's increasingly ubiquitous combination of 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and 113bhp electric motor, and it's front-wheel drive only: so this isn't the quickest or the most exciting PHEV on the market. It is refined and drivable, however, and a claimed WLTP electric range of up to 35- to 37 miles (depending on bodystyle) translates into about 25- in mixed real-world use.

Longer-range, petrol-only economy is a little disappointing, and the car has limited dynamic appeal - but as a roomy, alternative modern fleet option that'll cost you less than some, it's worth considering.

Save money with new Arteon deals from What Car?

9. Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered

The exceptionally handsome Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered is a curious car. Part performance saloon, part fuel-sipping electrified eco machine, there are few cars on this list that come with an identity as seemingly conflicted as this.

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Trick, manually adjustable Ohlins dampers provide the plug-in S60 range-topper an exceptionally well-damped ride and fantastic body control. Meanwhile, its electric motor and four-cylinder petrol engine (which is turbocharged and supercharged) work to lend it impressive straight-line oomph - courtesy of their combined 400bhp and 494lb ft.

With an electric range of 37miles, and a BIK rating of 11%, it has all the makings of a fantastic all-rounder. But for all its grunt and sophisticated ride comfort, it falters as a performance saloon because of its slightly aloof handling balance and uninspiring engine note. That twin-charged four-pot can be thirsty when driven hard, too.

Just as with the V90 above, a revised family of S60 PHEVs is due soon, at which point this car's vitals and its driving experience will be in need of reappraisal. As it stands, though, this remains an interesting but ultimately niche choice.

Save money with new S60 deals from What Car?

10Peugeot 508 Hybrid 225

The PSA Group has now entered the plug-in hybrid market on several fronts. This petrol-electric 508, available as a saloon or SW estate, is one of several PHEV efforts from sibling brands Peugeot, Citroën, Vauxhall and DS, all of which are hitting the market at roughly the same time. And all of them are powered in much the same way: a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol motor sits up front and drives the front wheels with some electric motor assistance - and, in some cases although not in this particular one, a second electric motor sits between the rear wheels and makes for four-wheel drive and an extra slice of performance.

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We marginally prefer the simpler, cheaper and more modest combination of one engine and one electric motor. In the 508 Hybrid, it makes for decent pace and drivability, as well 31 miles of WLTP range for an 11% BIK tax rating (so long as you're careful with your options). The powertrain is at its best when you're mooching around in no particular hurry. The combustion engine starts and stops very unobtrusively, and part-throttle drivability is good. Dig deeper for a quicker turn of speed and the powertrain's slickness deteriorates a little, but outright acceleration is respectable enough, while selecting gears for yourself using the paddles helps calm down the occasionally hyperactive temperament of the hybrid system.

The interior is less roomy than that of some mid-sized saloons, but the back seats are usable enough for the kids, while the front is pleasant and a visually interesting environment. That, combined with the car's stylishness and its value as a PHEV, ought to take this particular 508 a reasonably long way.

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Leyesa 5 October 2021

I get paid more than $90 to $100 per hour for working online. I heard about this job 3 months ago and after joining this I have earned easily $10k from this without having online working skills .

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spqr 30 November 2020
The reason there are no Japanese cars on this list is that the criteria are PHEV executive hybrids not self-charging executive hybrids. As far as my research can tell there are no Japanese PHEV executive cars currently on sale. Lexus are self-charging and Infiniti have left the UK market. No other Japanese car manufacturers are regarded as “luxury” or “executive” it would seem.
spqr 30 November 2020
According to the writer BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Audi will not sell you a full sized petrol PHEV estate

Either the writer of this article is ignorant or incompetent as BMW will sell you a 330e PHEV Touring (estate) or a 530e PHEV Touring (estate) with either rear wheel drive or all wheel drive. Both the 330e and 530e Touring have been in the price list for around 4 to 6 months depending on model and are available to order. Just another example of Autocar's declining journalism.