Best plug-in hybrid 2021

The best plug-in hybrid cars coming in 2021 offer greater performance, efficiency and electric range than ever before

Joe Holding
Mar 4, 2021

Plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) are becoming an increasingly common sight on our roads, as manufacturers look to give people a greener alternative to petrol- and diesel-only power.

The way plug-in hybrid cars work is very simple; as well as using a combustion engine like a normal car, they also incorporate one or more electric motors to provide drive. These are powered by a battery pack that you can charge at home via a plug socket.

As a result, plug-in hybrids can travel a certain distance under electric power only with no help from the engine at all. If you top-up the battery regularly, this means you could save a fortune on fuel bills while also slashing your carbon footprint. Sounds good right? Just remember that if you don't recharge the car regularly, you'll get nowhere near the official fuel economy figure - the more regularly you recharge when the battery is low, or empty, the more miles you can do on electricity alone and the less you'll spend on fuel.

When the battery runs out of juice, a PHEV will simply revert back to using its engine. And technology called regenerative braking - which turns energy lost when slowing down into electricity - means you’ll still get a small amount of electric assistance even if you haven’t plugged in. For the lowest emissions and running costs, though, charging regularly is the answer as this allows you to maximise how much driving you do on electric power and minimise how much fuel you burn.

Plug-in hybrids have been around for a few years now, but they’re improving all the time, and the best plug-in hybrids of 2021 are set to be the greatest we’ve ever seen, with a broader selection of models than ever before.

To give you an idea of what’s on the way, we’ve rounded up the most exciting new models due to hit British roads in 2021. And if they whet your appetite, but you're on a tighter budget, check out the best nearly new and used PHEVs on BuyaCar now, by clicking on the button above.

Best plug-in hybrids 2021

1. Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid

The Toyota RAV4 is one of the most popular medium SUVs on sale right now, rolling style, excellent ride comfort and a practical interior into one very appealing package. The addition of a plug-in hybrid variant only makes the line-up stronger. It uses an 18.1kWh battery to deliver up to 46 miles of electric-only range, and we reckon 35 miles is a realistic target in the real world from a full battery.

Meanwhile, the 2.5-litre petrol engine works in tandem with a pair of electric motors to produce 306hp. Therefore, 0-62mph takes just six seconds, which is pretty quick, although this isn’t really a car built for speed. You’ll be far better off taking a relaxed approach to driving, and letting the RAV4’s excellent ride quality shine through.

Charging the battery should take two-and-a-half hours from a dedicated home-charging unit, but if you only have a normal three-pin plug at your disposal then you’re looking at more than seven hours. Remember, if you can do all of your daily driving inside that 46-mile range you should spend barely anything on these journeys, as a full charge of the battery should cost you less than £3. In other words, peanuts.

MORE DETAILS ON THE TOYOTA RAV4 PLUG-IN HYBRID

2. Hyundai Tucson PHEV

The Hyundai Tucson is another SUV that will welcome plug-in hybrid technology in 2021. A 1.6-litre petrol engine will join forces with a 91hp electric motor to produce a combined total of 265hp. A 13.8kWh battery pack will be enough for over 30 miles of electric range according to Hyundai and you should be able to charge it in a couple of hours using a home-charging wallbox.

Elsewhere, Hyundai has stressed that it has made a special effort to make sure that boot space isn’t compromised too much in the plug-in hybrid version of the Tucson, something that often happens in PHEVs, as car makers usually stow the battery underneath the boot floor. In this case, 558 litres is offered, compared to 620 litres on the non-plug-in variants - only a 10% drop.

The new Tucson has more to it than plug-in hybrid tech; inside there’s a new 10.3-inch touchscreen media system, while the instrument panel behind the steering wheel also uses a 10.3-inch display for the instruments. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also supported, so you’ll be able to hook up your smartphone with minimum fuss.

MORE DETAILS ON THE HYUNDAI TUCSON PHEV

3. Renault Captur Hybrid

The Renault Captur Hybrid went on sale at the very end of 2020, but we’re including it here regardless as it's so new. The Captur is an extremely popular small SUV that was heavily updated last year, and the addition of a plug-in hybrid model will surely grab many people’s attention.

The 9.8kWh battery is a little smaller than the average PHEV gets these days, but up to 31 miles of electric range per charge remains a useful amount, especially for those who mainly drive short trips. Two electric motors and a 1.6-litre petrol engine together produce 160hp, and acceleration feels decent even if the 0-62mph figure of 10.1 seconds suggests this isn’t the fastest car in the world.

Charging should take less than two hours on a 7kW wallbox, and closer to four hours on a three-pin plug. Official tests suggest 188.3mpg is possible, although - as is the case with all PHEVs - this is a misleading figure that assumes you’ll start every journey with a full battery. Expect something like 40-50mpg when relying on the engine alone and much more if you only cover short journeys and recharge after each one.

MORE DETAILS ON THE RENAULT CAPTUR E-TECH

4. Seat Leon eHybrid

The Seat Leon eHybrid is priced from around £31,000, which on the face of it, is a lot of money for a family hatchback. You’d be right of course, but one of the realities of plug-in hybrid technology at the moment is that it makes cars more expensive that those that do without.

To get around the inflated purchase prices, you need to take into account the money you could save on fuel by driving on battery power. The eHybrid uses a 13kWh battery that promises up to 36 miles of electric range per charge, with fuel economy of 217-235mpg looking good on paper even if unrealistic in conditions outside of the testing lab, as it assumes you only cover short journeys and start with a full battery every time.

CO2 emissions are rated at 27-28g/km, so it’s likely that the Seat Leon eHybrid will appeal to lots of company-car drivers, who rely on low emissions for lower Benefit-in-Kind tax rates. But far from being a tax break with a number plate, the Leon eHybrid is decent to drive and reasonably well-equipped, and is also available in ST estate form for added practicality.

MORE DETAILS ON THE SEAT LEON PLUG-IN HYBRID

5. Jaguar E-Pace P300e

The Jaguar E-Pace is known for its sporty drive and spacious interior, however its high running costs have always been something of a sticking point compared to more affordable small SUV rivals. The new plug-in hybrid variant of the E-Pace could go some way to addressing this for certain people, however.

The P300e sits at the top of the E-Pace line-up, using a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine and an electric motor to produce 309hp. This translates to 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, which is pretty fast for this type of car.

The 15kWh battery is said to deliver 34 miles of electric range, which is a tad disappointing given what other car makers are able to do with smaller packs. 141mpg looks good on paper, but again this isn’t a figure you’re likely to get close to, as it relies on only covering shorter journeys and starting each one with a full battery.

Inside, there’s a new 11.4-inch touchscreen media system to go with the 12.3-inch digital instrument display; we’re hoping it’s an improvement on the old system, which was frustrating to use.

MORE DETAILS ON THE JAGUAR E-PACE P300e

6. Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV

In 2019 the Alfa Romeo Tonale compact SUV was revealed in the shape of a concept car at the Geneva Motor Show. It should go on sale later in 2021, and a plug-in hybrid version is expected to feature in the lineup.

The Tonale will be the first Alfa Romeo to feature an electrified powertrain, and it’s believed that it will use a 1.3-litre petrol engine in conjunction with an electric motor fitted to the rear axle. This would enable Alfa Romeo to offer four-wheel-drive, with the motor powering the back wheels and the engine driving the fronts.

The battery size isn’t known yet, although 31 miles of electric range has been suggested. FCA Group (the company that owns Alfa Romeo) recently merged with Groupe PSA, which is comprised of Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall and various others; the latter has had success with electrified cars, so Alfa Romeo should be able to draw on this knowledge to improve its own cars.

7. Peugeot 508 Sport Engineered

Plug-in hybrid technology found its way into the Peugeot 508 saloon in 2020, promising up to 39 miles of zero-emission range courtesy of a 11.8kWh battery. That plug-in offering is set to grow in 2021, as Peugeot adds a sportier version to its lineup in the shape of the 508 Sport Engineered.

Here the car’s battery pack will return 26 miles of range, although an extra electric motor ups power to a hefty 360hp; the most of any Peugeot ever made. The dual electric motors and 1.6-litre petrol engine mean the car can hit 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds en route to a top speed that’s limited to 155mph. Peugeot says charging the battery shouldn’t take more than two hours when plugged into a wallbox charger at home.

To adapt to the power offered by this new petrol-electric setup, the 508’s suspension has been tweaked, with new adjustable shock absorbers and bigger brakes added into the mix. These should make it quite an engaging drive, considering the standard 508 was already fun to drive.

MORE DETAILS ON THE PEUGEOT 508 PLUG-IN HYBRID

8. Cupra Formentor PHEV

Cupra - a sporty offshoot from Seat that’s now a brand in its own right - made waves with the arrival of the Formentor SUV in 2020. The Formentor is about as good to drive as any car of this type, so it stands to reason that the plug-in hybrid version should be very good too when it arrives in 2021.

The Formentor PHEV will use the same petrol-electric kit that’s found in the Volkswagen Golf GTE, namely a 1.4-litre petrol engine and an electric motor fed by a 13kWh battery. This will equate to 245hp, with an electric range of 31 miles per charge. We’ll leave you to decide which of those will be more useful for trips to the supermarket and the school run.

What the Cupra Formentor PHEV should prove above all else, is that plug-in hybrid technology can be beneficial for performance as well as efficiency. Just remember, as with all plug-in hybrids, to get a real economy benefit, you need to charge the car regularly.

MORE DETAILS ON THE CUPRA FORMENTOR

 

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