Now that the automotive world has woken up to the fact that the future of engine technology is electric we’ve been getting a steady supply of hybrids. And because they’ve gone mainstream, they’re no longer just the go-to cars for those that want to be seen as doing something green. With so many makes and models to choose from in 2016, it looks as if we really are in for the year of the hybrid car.
The question, however, is whether a hybrid car is for you. If you’re somebody who frequently makes small trips across town, then you’ll be most able to take advantage of electric running. It’s all those small trips to the shops and taking the kids to school which makes your petrol bill so high. If, however, you’re somebody that makes a smaller number of longer trips, then you might want to stick to the normal petrol versions. Unless you want to go for a fully electric Tesla with a range of 300 miles or so, petrol is still best for those long slugs on the motorway. In fact, that’s essentially why cars are stuck as hybrids for the time being. Most major manufacturers can’t make electric vehicles that will do everything we want them to do. So, they still need a backup.
But what has been so amazing about the hybrid movement is that, at least for the very highest end cars, being a hybrid is actually an advantage. Think about the Mclaren P1 and the Ferrari LaFerrari. Both of them use electric and petrol engines for some no-compromise performance.
With all this excitement, you’ll be pleased to know that there are some exceptional hybrids that you can get your hands on today. Here are a few of the best.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
One of the attractions of a hybrid vehicle is the low running cost. And that’s exactly what the Mitsubishi Outlander offers. Although petrol is currently quite cheap in the UK, incomes are still relatively flat. That means most of us want to save as much as possible on necessary outlays like fuel.
For many of us, a large SUV is out of the question because of the relatively high running costs compared to other more traditional cars. But not so with the Outlander. Mitsubishi has managed to make the Outlander a frugal old fellow, capable of doing more than 50mpg. Plus, the electric engine puts the car in a lower BIK tax band. With an electric range of about 30 miles, you’ll be able to avoid spending on fuel for most of your short journeys.
Added to that, Mitsubishi has managed to inject a bit of style into the Outlander. It’s not a big, generic Asian block of a car. It’s got some refined lines and artistic touches. No, it’s not got the pedigree of a Range Rover Sport, but it does command its own style. And once the look is polished off with LED lights and colour-coded mirrors and bumpers, what you end up with is a very smart looking car indeed.
Mitsubishi has taken extra pains with the Outlander to improve their dismal record on interiors. The interior is light and roomy, and the quality of the finish is on a par with other cars in its class. One of the first things you’ll notice about the cabin are the big, chunky buttons and touchscreen satellite navigation system.
One of the unknowns with hybrid cars, however, is their reliability. With two engines in the car, it seems as if there might be more to go wrong. Reliability, however, is an area in which Mitsubishi have traditionally excelled. But when it comes to the Outlander, testers, including those from AutoTrader, say it is actually very reliable.
The word Prius has been synonymous with hybrid cars since Toyota first released the model back in 1997. Since 2000, it has been available at Toyota dealerships all over the world and has gained quite a reputation. But now that hybrid vehicles are no longer the preserve of environmentalists, how will it fare?
Let’s start with a few of the positives. The Prius+ has seven seats. This is good if you have a large family to cart around. But more importantly, the Prius+ has seven seats and is friendly to the planet. In fact, it’s the only seven-seater car with an average CO2 output of less than 100g/km. So that’s a definite tick.
It’s also, like the Outlander, very cheap to run under the right conditions.
But the problems for the Prius start to creep in right away, especially if you’re choosing a hybrid car for budget-related reasons. For one, the initial purchase price is as scarily high as it ever was. This needs to come down if the Prius is ever going to attract the business of families looking to save money on car running costs.
But there is another problem that comes with the Prius. If you opt for anything other than the most frugal model, you’ll end up going above that magical 100g/km of emissions. As a result, you’ll start incurring road tax. What’s even more frustrating is by how little the Excel model breaches this all-important threshold. It takes CO2 emissions up to 101g/km. Surely Toyota could have thought of a way to shave off that extra 1g/km?
But enough of the negatives for now. What makes the Prius a Prius? I think it’s always been about the luxurious equipment that comes with the car. Even the entry level models come with climate control, surround stereo and rearview camera. The Excel comes with additional leather seats, satellite navigation and bigger alloys.
What I love about this car is how children just can’t seem to get enough of it. That should tell you something. The car has the looks of something that came straight out of a Batman movie from the 2030s. What other word can describe the style of this car other than “sensational?”
But what’s actually behind the exterior? Well, the i8 uses a plug-in hybrid drivetrain that combines an electric motor with a turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine. The 1.5-litre engine might not sound like much, but when combined with the power from the lithium-ion batteries, you’ll feel it. It brings supercar levels of performance at the running cost of a supermini. With sports mode on, the car produces around 357 bhp, which means it can accelerate from 0-62 in under 4.4 seconds. That’s quick.
And when you consider that there are so many different systems that have to come together to produce that thrust, it’s remarkable. With the i8, cars really can start being considered as high-tech objects.
In the bends, the i8 does well too. The car’s adaptive suspension gives you support in the corners and straight lines feel smooth and comfortable. It’s also very lightweight, which gives the car a lot of agility. Remember, you can always switch driving modes depending on your mood or road conditions. In economy mode, the suspension softens a lot and lets you take it easy. In performance mode, it stiffens up.
So are there any downsides to this car? Well, if I said price, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. Otherwise, you’d probably have one of these in your garage already. That’s not to say that the car doesn’t have good fuel economy. Combined mpg is sitting pretty at around 134, and if you just use it for a short commute the savings will be greater.
And as with any supercar, maintaining and repairing it can be cripplingly expensive.
VW Golf GTE
The final hybrid car, worth considering, is an old favourite, the VW Golf. Despite the recent emissions scandal, the Golf GTE keeps up with, and even exceeds many hybrids in terms of fuel economy. The car’s combination 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol and electric engines get around 150mpg. This means that emissions are down in the basement at 40g/km.
The positives first. Well, there are only really positives with the Golf. The exterior looks stunning as we’ve become accustomed to with Golfs. And we must also applaud VW for their excellent attention to detail in the car’s interior. The boot is low and square, so plenty of room for the shopping.
Plus, VW has gotten around to solving that annoying problem many of us have in carparks. The doors on the Golf are stepless, meaning that they’ll stay open at any angle. That’s ideal the next time you have to choose between sucking in your stomach and smashing your door into the side of the next car to get out.
Despite its hybrid status, the performance is typical Golf, as you might expect. Playful, reliable and high on performance. In fact, VW is yet another manufacturer that has managed to improve the performance of its original petrol car.
With the GTE, VW has done something that’s hard to do well. They’ve reinvented one of the most celebrated cars in history and they’ve brought it successfully into the hybrid space.