With diesels under fire from the green lobby, hybrid SUV options look increasingly attractive – but which hybrid SUV is best for you?
It used to be thought that SUVs and 4x4s with diesel powertrains were a match made in heaven. Diesel engines offer lots of low-down grunt to move big, heavy cars, and they’re superbly economical too.
Then came dieselgate, and an environmental backlash against previously favoured diesel engines due to a new focus on localised air pollution. If you didn’t want a diesel SUV, where could you turn? Hybrid SUV powertrains combining petrol engines with electric assistance suddenly looked a lot more appealing.
• What is a hybrid car?
Not so long ago, if you wanted to drive a hybrid SUV Toyota was about the only option. Lexus hybrid SUVs shared the Toyota family tech too, but nowadays there’s a far wider range of hybrid SUVs in UK dealers, as manufacturers respond to increasing demand.
The greater choice of hybrid options makes it much more likely there’s a hybrid-power SUV or crossover that’s right for you, and we’ve compiled a list of our top 10 favourite models.
It includes everything from super-luxurious – and expensive – plug-in hybrids like the Range Rover P400e, to the much more affordable and compact options like the Kia Niro.
What is a plug-in hybrid?
There’s still some confusion around about the different types of SUV hybrid, but nowadays the two main options are usually described as PHEVs – or plug-in hybrid vehicles – or self-charging hybrids, which you can’t plug in even if you wanted to.
The SUV PHEV is a sort of half-way house between a hybrid and a fully electric vehicle, because it has a battery big enough to run the car on electricity alone – typically for 25 to 35 miles – after one charge of a few hours. A PHEV also has a petrol engine, and most of the time you’re likely to be driving on a mix of petrol and electricity. When the battery runs out, you’re down to petrol power alone.
A self-charging hybrid works because it uses a much smaller battery, which the engine can cope with recharging on the go – impossible with the bigger batteries required in an SUV PHEV.
The downside is that you have much more limited electric-only range in a self-charging hybrid, typically just a few miles if you’re lucky. The self-charging hybrid gains its major advantage by greatly increasing fuel economy, as the electric motor continually assists the petrol engine on a run.
Plug-in SUV hybrids are extremely efficient if you do the right sort of motoring – either commuting in EV mode only with a fully charged battery, or driving distances that don’t exhaust the battery and force you to rely on the petrol motor.
In that case you’ll benefit from the efficiency of a diesel – or better – but with the smoothness of a petrol engine, or even silent electric running. However, if you fail to keep a hybrid SUV battery topped up, you’re presented with a false economy. A plug-in hybrid SUV with a flat battery that has to rely on its petrol engine, will actually be less efficient and certainly less cost-effective than a regular petrol alternative. Especially so, once you’ve factored in the significantly higher prices manufacturers currently demand for hybrid options.
Why buy a hybrid SUV?
Aside from the tax benefits and incentives available with any hybrid car, one benefit of the hybrid SUV is that their size means there’s not much compromise in terms of passenger space. The hybrid system usually takes up space under the boot floor, and many makers fit a smaller fuel tank to make room for it, the reasoning being that the charged battery and electric motor will more than make up for the smaller fuel tank range. As a result, there are a few seven-seat hybrid SUVs on sale that feature a third row in the boot.
If you’re looking for a hybrid SUV or crossover, your options are wider than ever. At the lower end of the range in terms of size, the Kia Niro is more of a hatchback with SUV styling cues than a full crossover.
Where the real expansion is taking place is in the plug-in hybrid market. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was the first to arrive in 2012, but since then it’s been joined by many others including the Volvo XC90 Twin Engine, Audi Q7 e-tron, Porsche Cayenne E-hybrid, and the MINI Countryman S E.
But which hybrid SUVs are our favourites? Check out our top 10 below…
1. Volvo XC60 T8
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Image 2 of 11
With the same hybrid setup as its bigger sibling, the XC90 T8, the smaller Volvo XC60 T8 is a real performance SUV thanks to its twin-charged 299bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine working alongside an 86bhp electric motor.
If baiting sports cars on the school run is your thing, the 0-62mph time of just 5.5 seconds is sure to impress, almost as much as the low-running costs and company car tax savings.
Very much a scaled-down XC90, the XC60 gets a similarly beautiful interior with plush seats and plenty of space throughout. It comes as no surprise, then, that the stylish plug-in SUV won Best Premium Hybrid car at the Auto Express New Car Awards in 2018.
2. Porsche Cayenne S E Hybrid
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Image 3 of 11
Here’s proof that you don’t have to compromise on fun handling by choosing a hybrid model. The plug-in Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid is just as capable as the conventional diesel and petrol models when it comes to corners, which means it’s a cut above the SUV norm when it comes to fun driving dynamics.
There’s a bit more weight (around 200kg) to deal with compared to the Cayenne Diesel, but the hybrid model is agile and sharp where many rivals are soft and stodgy. And this is very much a performance hybrid that just happens to be efficient, too. A 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds is a touch behind the XC90 T8, but it’s nearly a second and a half ahead of the Cayenne diesel.
Interior space isn’t the best – it’s a tight 5 seater when most rivals now come with 7 seats – but the hybrid system works seamlessly and without intrusion, so it doesn’t compromise Porsche’s famous sporting prowess, or its cruising talents.
3. Volvo XC90 T8
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Image 4 of 11
Volvo made headlines with its announcement that all of its models will have some form of hybrid drive by 2019, and the XC90 T8 is one of the first models to showcase this hybrid tech.
The plug-in model features the same 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine as the T6, but it’s bolstered by an electric motor to make a healthy 395bhp. That’s enough to give the Twin Engine a 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds, although really the XC90 is at its best when you take it easy.
Air-suspension, super-comfortable seats and a classy cabin make it a properly posh family car, and because the hybrid drive system is fitted under the floor (taking up space next to a smaller fuel tank, it means the XC90 remains a full 7 seater. It really is the perfect all-round upmarket family car that just happens to have some off-road ability in its range of talents.
4. Audi Q5 TFSI e
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Image 5 of 11
The Audi Q5 is already one of the most desirable SUVs in its class, offering a great driving experience, superlative build quality and lots of luxury and space for all the family. Add the plug-in hybrid tech of the TFSI e model, and you’ll have every right to feel smugger than ever at the wheel of this handsome hauler.
There are two versions available. The 50 TFSi e boasts combined petrol and electric motor power of 295bhp, while the 55 TFSI e bumps maximum output up to 362bhp. That’s good for a 0-62mph time of 5.3 seconds and a 148mph maximum speed. Both variants feature the same 141bhp electric motor and 14.1kWh battery, and in pure EV mode the Q5 is good for a claimed 26 miles. That’s easily enough for most commutes, and with a sophisticated and quiet petrol engine installation that will return 40mpg on a run when the battery runs out, the Audi is perfectly practical for long journeys at the weekend too. You can charge the TFSI e in two hours from a domestic-type 7kW wallbox, or six hours from a standard three-pin socket.
The only real downside is the price. At almost £50k without options like metallic paint, the hybrid tech adds around £6,000 more than an equivalent standard model.
5. Toyota C-HR
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Image 6 of 11
While small crossovers are all the rage right now, few have the style and head-turning ability of the Toyota C-HR. Completely modern visually from any angle, the striking little SUV won’t be to everyone’s taste, but beneath the bold body is a capable family car.
Using established tech from Toyota’s hybrid pioneer, the Prius, the 122bhp C-HR is predictably refined. While not necessarily a car for keen drivers, the small footprint and impressive economy make it a great everyday option, and the perfect first step into hybrid ownership.
With its coupe-styling, the C-HR does lose out on practicality compared to the Kia Niro, but there’s plenty of passenger space throughout its futuristic and upmarket cabin.
6. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
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Image 7 of 11
The Outlander PHEV is a plug-in SUV pioneer, because it was the first such model to go on sale in the UK. Its combination of spacious SUV body, hybrid efficiency and prices that matched the Outlander diesel (after adding the Government’s Plug-In Car Grant), meant it held plenty of appeal.
Today, the Outlander is holding ground, but prices have risen, and as rival manufacturers come on-stream with their own plug-in hybrid SUVs, the Outlander PHEV is beginning to look less appealing.
There’s no arguing with the amount of kit on offer, with top-spec versions coming with leather, sat-nav, climate control, four heated seats and adaptive cruise control. But material quality inside is a bit of a letdown, while the assorted beeps coming from the dash can be infuriating.
On the road, the Outlander is best left to manage its hybrid drive, although there is a function that allows you to store battery energy for later in your journey, if needed. The Outlander is reasonably comfortable and quiet, but the firm ride is a letdown, while driving enjoyment is left for rivals to provide.
7. Kia Niro
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Image 8 of 11
The Kia Niro is a good-looking crossover/SUV alternative to the Toyota Prius hatch Small crossovers are all the rage right now, so it’s no wonder that Kia decided to give its Niro hybrid an SUV look. There’s a choice between a conventional Prius-style hybrid model and a plug-in hybrid version, but there is also the full-electric e-Niro.
The Niro was designed as a hybrid from the outset, so while it sits between the Ceed hatch and Sportage crossover in Kia’s range, the way the battery and electric motor are packaged means space isn’t compromised inside. There’s plenty of kit on all models, while gloss white fittings are a subtle hint at the Niro’s eco credentials.
The Niro hybrid is a little behind the Toyota Prius, in terms of outright economy, but for most people it’ll be efficient enough. And besides, its more conventional crossover looks will be an attraction for those put off by the radical looks of the Prius.
8. Toyota RAV4
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Image 9 of 11
The RAV4 has been around for 25 years in one form or another, but the latest version stands out with much funkier styling than its predecessors. The design is not as ‘out there’ as the smaller Toyota C-HR with its sporty coupe-style roofline, but compared to the RAV4 of old, it’s a much more appealing package for anyone who wants to make a style statement.
Now available with hybrid powertrain only, like the C-HR the RAV4 shares much of its tech with the more humdrum Prius. In this case you get a 2.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor combo that together offer just short of 220bhp, as well as the option of four-wheel drive. You also get a CVT automatic gearbox, which sounds characteristically strained under vigorous acceleration, which for some buyers will spoil the experience. The ride and driving experience are otherwise quite pleasant.
If you want a mid-size SUV hybrid that doesn’t need plugging-in, there’s still not really anything else out there to tempt you from the RAV4. It’s not a cheap car though, and at around £30k you’ll need to be keen on the powertrain to pick a RAV4 over a diesel Skoda Kodiaq which is £5k cheaper and not much less economical.
9. Lexus UX 250h
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Image 10 of 11
The Lexus UX 250h is another member of the Toyota family that shares its powertrain tech with the Prius hatchback. It’s a well-tried system, and put to good effect in this latest Lexus SUV/crossover, where even the oft-criticised CVT transmission seems perky and less strained than in its similarly-equipped Toyota group siblings.
You get a 2.0-litre petrol engine as well as the electric motor and Lexus promises economy of up to 68.9mpg, in official tests at least. That’s easily a match for many SUV diesels, and CO2 emissions are low too. As a ‘self-charging’ hybrid you don’t need to plug the UX 250h in – if that’s your thing, then the forthcoming electric-only UX 300e is worth a look instead.
As well as great economy the UX 250h offers all the usual Lexus qualities of peerless build quality, top-notch reliability, and a luxurious ambience. It’s not the most practical SUV out there though, with a relatively small boot. You also have to put up with Lexus’s fiddly infotainment system, and you still can’t get Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
10. Range Rover P400e
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Image 11 of 11
You may think it odd that anyone splashing out £100k or more (much more in the case of the £170k SVA Autobiography) on a luxuriously indulgent Range Rover might have the best interests of the environment at heart. Whether it’s greenwash or not, the P400e is an impressive piece of kit that offers the choice of stonking performance or impressive frugality. At least by the standards of official tests, where the plug-in hybrid Range Rover returns more than 90mpg. In electric-only mode, you won’t use any petrol at all for up to 31 miles.
The other side of the coin is 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds thanks to a combined output from the 2.0-petrol engine and electric motor of a meaty 396bhp. Driven to its full potential the efficiency plummets, but low official CO2 figures mean the benefit-in-kind tax bracket is just 19 per cent.
Would you ever consider buying a hybrid SUV? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…