Hot Hybrids

Jeremy Taylor (Contributing Editor)
Hybrid cars that don't sacrifice style

Not long ago the only people driving fuel-efficient, hybrid cars were pioneering eco-warriors and Hollywood A-listers with a conscience. Now we are all discovering the benefits of adding a spark of electricity to our lives.

Hybrid cars rely on a conventional diesel or petrol engine, combined with an electric motor and battery pack to turn the wheels. There are different ways to recharge the batteries but most rely on the combustion engine to act as a generator – working in tandem with the motor to power the wheels.

There’s a myriad of options but here’s our guide to four of the classiest hybrids on the market...

Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid

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The third generation of the Cayenne hybrid can be charged direct from the mains for the first time. It takes about three-and-a-half hours and offers a range of around 30 miles. That’s fine for urban drives but the V6 engine soon starts to soak petrol at motorway speeds on longer journeys. Expect around 30mpg for everyday use – less than the diesel version.

There are plenty of other luxury SUVs that will better that figure for less than £61,000 too but the badge appeal of Porsche will sway many. Naturally the Cayenne handles with sportscar-like qualities but the extra weight of the battery pack means it’s not as quick as you might expect.

On the plus side, the interior is beautiful put together and the 2016 Cayenne is also a lot prettier to look at the earlier models. Great for city dwellers who will save plenty on their daily commute. Porsche is just launching a four-wheel driver version of the Panamera four-door too. 

Lexus RX 450h

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Toyota group’s answer to the upmarket BMW X5 and Land Rover Sport could have driven off the set of a Star Wars movie. Forget the futuristic technology inside this SUV – just stand back and soak up the styling of the Lexus. The angular design cues mean the RX looks like no other vehicle on the planet.

The latest 450h was launched back in January and is light years ahead of the previous model. The cabin, in particular, is a huge leap forward, with improved quality trim and luxury seeping from every button and switch. A widescreen infotainment system dominates the dashboard but is let down by a mushroom-shaped toggle that’s too sensitive to use. However, the fantastically soft seats, most likely designed for the US market, are as sumptuous as a Bentley.

Under the bonnet is a conventional 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine. It combines with two electric motors to produce 300bhp and a modest 0-60mph time of 7.7 seconds. Surprisingly, top fuel efficiency is only 51.4mpg – a figure equalled by many diesel-powered rivals.

I couldn’t fault the build quality of the 450h but it lacked the performance and precise steering I expected of a premium brand hybrid. And with only average mpg figures, the RX is best employed on short journeys around town, rather than long, motorway runs.

Volvo XC90 T8

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The T8 is Volvo’s showcase car for plug-in, hybrid technology. It might look like a standard XC90 on the outside but underneath is a seven-seater packed with green technology. Like all Volvos, the T8 is well-built and bristling with safety features. However, thanks to a 320bhp supercharged petrol engine and an 87bhp electric motor, it also has the power to outperform most sports cars.

UK buyers will undoubtedly opt for the more sedate D5 diesel version – not least because the entry level T8 costs over £60,000. For everyday driving in and out of town, the diesel is way more frugal too. That’s because the T8’s 134mpg is only achievable in full electric mode. I managed a modest 32mpg in the real world and that slipped below 28mpg on several occasions.

So why opt for the T8? Well, you might enjoy driving and don’t want to be lumbered with an SUV destined for a life in the slow lane. This is an XC90 that doesn't pull any punches. 0-60mph is dispatched under 6 seconds and handling is excellent.

The cabin is also a lovely place to sit, the seats wrap around you like a comfort blanket and the large-screen infotainment system is state-of-the-art, if a little over-complicated. This is a Volvo for driving. A wolf in sheep’s clothing that will surprise and entertain long after the school run is over.

Volkswagen Golf GTE

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VW’s sporty-looking GTE is a plug-in hybrid equipped with a 101bhp electric motor and a 148bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine. The Golf has been the classiest hatchback for decades but does it work in dual-fuel mode?

Apart from discreet blue body trim and matching brake calipers, I found it difficult to spot the difference between the newly launched GTE and a standard Golf. The plug socket is even hidden under the front badge. Inside, it looks like every other sporty Golf, with tartan-pattern seats, a chunky steering wheel and standard issue dashboard arrangement. It’s only when you spot a small ‘eco’ button by the gear-changer that you realise this is no ordinary VW.

The button offers the driver three power settings via the infotainment system – pure electric, hybrid and charge modes. It’s simple to get used to, although I suspect most people will stick to hybrid once the novelty factor has worn off. GTE will sprint to 60mph in a modest 7.6 seconds. It’s no hot hatch but with the battery fully charged, it’s possible to run 31 miles on pure electric power. That’s perfect for urban dwellers. Once the battery is empty, expect around 43mpg.

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