Say hi to the hybrids: green and sometimes mean
Range anxiety, a lack of charging points and general fear of the unknown are issues that continue to hamper the success of fully electric vehicles, which is why many manufacturers currently believe that a happy middle ground is perhaps the best way to tempt motorists into green(er) vehicles.
That contented medium is a hybrid: a car that packs an internal combustion engine (be it petrol or diesel) and electrically-powered motors that typically kick in during low speed driving (thus saving fuel) or help boost performance when the smack is laid down (thus taking a load off the engine).
Perhaps the biggest draw of the hybrid vehicle is its extremely low CO2 emissions figure, which generally grants it access into low emissions zones - such as London's Congestion Charge area - and results in cheaper or free road tax.
Hybrids also pack some mightily impressive fuel economy figures but heed with caution. Long motorway slogs that zap battery power will require just as much, if not more fuel than rival frugal combustion engine cars.
But if regular, low-speed trips to the shop or school run are on the cards, a plug-in hybrid could be a low-cost godsend.
This is a collection of the best hybrids we've driven, which includes everything from banzai hypercars to hand city machines. Bear in mind that prices are generally 'from' figures and can escalate if you're tempted by the options list.
So turn on, plug in and drop out.
Toyota's upmarket sibling has long been at the forefront of hybrid technology and it now offers battery assistance in an impressive six models. Lexus also doesn't 'do' diesel, so it turns to battery packs in order to eek extra miles from the petrol tank, keep CO2 figures down and improve performance.
The IS300h is a striking machine and its interior is decked out in all manner of screens, buttons and dials. None of these things work particularly well but the next generation infotainment system, which is due in the mid-life update, looks to be a vast improvement.
There's also no plug-in variant currently on offer but for those doing short trips into town, the electric assistance, which is topped up using regenerative braking tech, could prove a real money saver.
It's a relaxing cruise rather than an all-out sporting machine but it's arguably one of the best looking saloons on the market and it highlights just how good hybrids can be, especially as battery and motor technology improves.
Price £28,995 | Lexus
BMW i3 range extender
Much praise has been heaped on the i3 - not least here at at the well-appointed luxury garage attached to T3 Towers, and that's because it is quite simply an exquisite piece of electric engineering. However, for those not ready to go "full electric", it also comes in this range extender flavour, for your long-distance peace of mind.
A tiny, 650cc, two-cylinder motor and similarly minuscule, nine-litre fuel tank reside underneath the futuristic bodywork and their sole job is to generate electricity to top up the on-board batteries. The result is around 180 miles of motoring, as opposed to the 90-odd offered by the battery packs alone.
Of course, the addition of an internal combustion engine comes at a price, namely that it's noisy and it adds weight to the i3's brilliantly constructed carbon-fibre-enforced plastic body.
Regardless, it offers a smidge of comfort to those riddled with range anxiety but if we were dishing out advice, we'd say stick with the battery packs; the i3 was designed to be a futuristic city slicker, not some half-baked hybrid.
Price £34,130 | BMW
Mercedes-Benz GLE 500e
Gigantic SUVs are brilliant case studies when it comes to proving hybrid technology, as most of them shun a life of off-roading for the stop/start traffic of Chelsea and what better place to retire to the silence of an electric motor than London's hectic roadways?
The GLE 500e fuses a 328bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine with a 114bhp electric motor, so drivers get the best of both worlds. It also packs some neat tech that selects the best use for the electric motor. For example, it will add electric juice when the driver floors the pedal for speedy overtaking manoeuvres or retain battery levels if entering a low emissions zone later in the journey.
Official fuel economy figures are 85.6 mpg (combined), while the CO2 emissions are a road tax-friendly 78 g/km. Or, you can enjoy up to 18 miles with a top speed of 80mph on battery power alone. Check you out, Sloane Square eco warrior.
Price £64,995 | Mercedes-Benz
Toyota Auris Touring Sports hybrid
There's nothing particularly sporty about the hybrid estate version of the Auris but it does a great job of lugging 1,658-litres of stuff around in low emissions comfort. Toyota's hybrid element doesn't require plugs or leads and instead uses an electric motor and battery packs that recharge via regenerative braking when on the move.
The latest generation Auris has undergone a serious, Gok Wan-style makeover, with sharper exterior styling and an improved interior that features the latest Touch 2 infotainment system. Better still, you'll achieve a claimed 70.6mpg and the CO2 emissions figure is just 81g/km. To conclude, it's a very green family wagon that tackles everyday life with vigour. Just don't expect Formula 1-style performance.
Price £21,145 | Toyota
Volkswagen Passat GTE
The latest Passat is one cool customer. It's styled to rival the pricier saloons from Mercedes-Benz and BMW, while its interior features the latest infotainment and drive-assist features that make those long motorway journeys easier and more comfortable.
The GTE plug-in hybrid version is merely an added bonus, as it can return a claimed economy of 148.7mpg and it emits a rock-bottom 44g/km of CO2 thanks to a 154bhp 1.4 TSI petrol engine and electric motor combination.
Unlike other vehicles on this list, the Passat GTE can be plugged in and used purely in E-Mode, meaning up to 31-miles of emissions-free motoring is possible. But the real highlight is the performance, as a special GTE button next to the gear lever unleashes the full 215bhp from both the electric motor and small petrol engine.
It makes overtaking a breeze and adds another string to the Passat's rather enticing bow. Tempted? It goes on sale later this year and scooped the What Car? Award in its category.
Price circa £40,000 | Volkswagen
Peugeot 508 Hybrid4
Peugeot is one of the big players in the hybrid game and its range of diesel/electric Hybrid4 powertrains is among the industry's best selling. Does that mean its offerings are the best? Erm, no.In fact, motoring purists will likely bash the 508 hybrid for its lack of fizz in the engine department, vague steering and unsettled ride.
However, this is a machine designed to emit less carbon dioxide and therefore reduce the tax bills of those with a business car allowance, rather than to set pulses racing crazily.
The big Pug is good for around 50mpg of mixed driving, which doesn't compete with some of the more frugal diesel engines currently available, but drive it properly (brushing the brakes to regenerate energy etc.) and big savings can be made, especially if lots of inner-city driving is on the cards.
Sometimes boring is good, guys. Get with it!
Price £32,395 | Peugeot
Audi Q7 e-tron
"Whatever Mercedes-Benz can do, we can do better," seems to be the motto Audi has employed over recent years and hot on the heels of the Merc GLE 500e comes the equally gargantuan Q7 e-tron.
This gentle giant fuses a 254bhp 3.0-litre TDI diesel engine with a 94kW electric motor; meaning total power is a heady 368bhp. As with Audi's other, albeit much smaller, e-tron product, the A3, the Q7 can manage around 35-miles of all-electric cruising and those with access to charging points will feel the benefit of that electric motor.
Near-silent schleps around town are possible and those batteries can be charged in around two hours from a fast charger, or eight hours from a domestic socket and as a result, those al-electric SUVs that reside in central London will unlikely sup a drop of fuel on the daily commute.
Better yet, the Q7 e-tron has a claimed fuel economy figure of 166mpg in mixed driving scenarios and emits a class-leading 46g/km of CO2. It will cost around £65,000 when it goes on sale later this year but blow of the hefty price tag will be softened by the impressively low running costs to those with access to a charger.
Pricecirca £65,00 | Audi
Toyota Prius 2016
You can argue the toss over which was the first hybrid car on sale. It's gets complicated, especially if you start talking about territories. But the Prius was certainly the model that took the hybrid concept mainstream when it launched in 1997.
It's the model that's come to define most people's notion of hybrid motoring, and London is currently awash with them, as Uber and mini-can drivers use them to dodge the congestion charge and keep running costs down. The 2016 model promises a ride that's quieter yet sportier, with 'a lower centre of gravity, increased body rigidity and enhanced suspension'.
It still looks decidedly eccentric, but it'll be interesting to see how the new model performs.
Pricecirca £33,000 |Toyota
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
If it's epic amounts of power, typically stylish Porsche good looks and emissions of just 71g/km you're after, you've come to the right place. The Panamera S E-Hybrid is quite simply staggering in the performance stakes, completing the 0-62mph dash in 5.5 seconds and rocketing on to a top speed of 168mph. The lithium-ion batteries can power the hulking beast for around 22 miles without so much as sniffing a drop of fuel plus they add a good dollop of grunt during overtaking manoeuvres. Four driving modes allow the driver to toggle between energy regeneration, overtly sporty and a mix of the two at a simple touch of a button. It avoids the London Congestion Charge, comes with a tiny tax bill and it has luminous green brake calipers. What's not to love about that?
Audi A3 e-tron
It's neat, it's small and it looks just like a standard Audi A3 (bar a fancy new front grille), which is exactly why the German marque feels it will tempt the masses to 'go hybrid'.
It also helps that it is a fantastic little thing to drive - nippy in pure electric mode, which will last for up to 31 miles, while quiet and refined at motorway cruising speeds where the electric motors assist the 1.4-litre engine.
It's an absolute doddle to pilot, with plenty of buttons and gizmos to keep even the most distracted drivers entertained. Expect a solid 176mpg when driven sensibly, which is more than enough to keep the bank manager happy.
Price £35,690 |Audi
Okay, we admit this isn't strictly a hybrid car. Well, it's not the type of vehicle you'd run out and purchase if you were looking to slash fuel bills, anyway.
Still, the almighty P1 does use a combination of 3.8-litre V8 engine and powerful 176bhp electric motor to develop a staggering 903bhp total output. The batteries and electric motor exist to provide extra power rather than aid fuel efficiency - so don't expect to silently breeze around town anytime soon - but they do it with breath taking efficiency.
Planet-saving motoring this is not, but you get a 0-60mph time of just 2.8 seconds, which might be enough to flee bad-weather armageddon when it comes.
Price £866,000 |McLaren
Audi A8 hybrid
The big Audi doesn't quite turn heads like the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid but it still shifts while supping fuel like it's, erm, rapidly running out.
You get a beefy 261bhp from the combination of petrol engine and electric motors, making it slightly quicker than its V6 turbo diesel sibling. All-electric power is limited to a measly two miles - so don't expect to complete the daily commute without visiting the petrol station - and it emits 144g/km, meaning it comes under fire from the C Charge brigade.
It is one of the cleanest and cheapest luxury limousines out there though, which is preferable to dirty and expensive, in our book.
Price £60,000 |Audi
Porsche 918 Spyder
This is it, the king of hybrid hotness. Porsche's 918 Spyder. The numbers for this thing are absolutely, positively off the map. But try 875hp of total system power and 85mpg just for starters, although the reality is more complex when you factor in grid emissions. The 918 is also a bona fide hybrid with 20 miles of pure electric range.
It's not much like a Prius though, admittedly, and less popular with Uber drivers.
Price £665,362 | Porsche
Range Rover Autobiography Hybrid
Range Rover's hybrid packs all the outrageous opulence of its dino-juice drinking siblings. Range Rover's new hybrid system isn't exactly ambitious, lacking plug-in charging capability, and let's not pretend any two-tonne SUV is actually environmentally friendly.
Still, the system works well and the result is more efficient than standard models.
£98,000 | Land Rover